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How to Get a Better Deal on Health Insurance

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In this season for rate changes, prepare yourself.

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Have you gotten a "Dear Subscriber" letter from your health insurer lately? If you haven't, you probably will.

It's the season for notifying individual customers that their monthly premiums are going up as of January 1. It's also "open enrollment" season, when companies ask employees to review their choices and change plans if they wish.

My letter says the folks at my insurance company greatly value their relationship with me, and as of the first of the year, I'll pay $560 a month for my individual coverage, a price increase of a bit over 20% from this year's rate.

Now, I'm one of those people who can put off reviewing a major personal decision for decades. My latest and lamest excuse was that Congress could enact health insurance reform any day now, and force me to review my options all over again.

Fat chance.

But $6,720 a year is a lot of dough, and it forced me to look into my options.

Here's hoping my legwork saves you the crushing headache it gave me.

The Big Tradeoff


If you're buying your own health insurance as an individual or for your family, you can compare plans side by side on several sites. HealthInsurance.com is easy to browse because it doesn't ask a lot of questions up front, and you're not required to give contact information. There's also GoHealthInsurance.com and USHealthInsuranceQuotes.com.

Note: If you have your own business, including at least one employee, you may be able to get a better price on a group plan. You're also eligible for a group plan if you're a husband-and-wife team, but be prepared to prove it with copies of tax forms.

Here's the big tradeoff:

You can pay a big monthly rate with little or no deductible and small or no co-payments for routine doctor's visits, or tests, or prescriptions and other services. Or, you can pay a smaller monthly rate with a big deductible -- at least $2,500 and up to $7,500 or more -- plus substantial co-payments or no coverage for some services.

The monthly cost difference is substantial. The fuller coverage costs roughly twice as much. And there are much cheaper plans that cover virtually nothing except a catastrophe.

Most people think of that choice as a crapshoot, as in, "I only need insurance if I get hit by a truck."

That may have been true in the past, but routine health care has become wildly, unpredictably expensive. A child with the sniffles can undergo tests that cost hundreds. A pain in your knee can be treated with injections that cost several thousand dollars, after x-rays that cost hundreds, and that's a recurring expense every year or so.

The bottom line is, if you go with the cheaper monthly rate, you should consider at least budgeting money for unexpected health costs, or you will avoid going to the doctor even though you're paying for health insurance.
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