Archive for October, 2013

Tips for Purchasing Individual Health Insurance

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

I’m always searching for the latest in health insurance news and lately all you can find are complaints about the Affordable Care Act.  Isn’t there anything else going on with health insurance companies?  Whether you are for or against President Obama’s health insurance reform, give it a chance to work before really judging it’s effectiveness.  For those Americans who are trying to compare health insurance policies so that they can comply with the individual mandate, there are insurance options both in and outside of the exchanges.  In U.S. News & World Report’s “8 Keys to Picking the Best Individual Health Insurance Policy,” Megan Johnson and Steve Sternberg offer helpful information to consumers.  Their goal is to help you save money on your health insurance policy as well as find a plan that will meet all of your health care needs.

One of the first things you should do is determine your personal must-have list.  The Affordable Care Act mandates dozens of preventative health services that must be covered.  In addition to those, make sure to add maternity coverage, vision insurance, or any other specific coverage that you think you may need.  Do not buy more coverage than you will need.  Although you can’t anticipate exactly how your future will play out, you could save a lot of money by increasing your deductible if you are healthy overall.  If you have specific doctors that you know you want to continue seeing, make sure that they are covered in your network before purchasing a health insurance plan.  It rarely make sense to see an out of network doctor because the costs are so high.  Find out exactly what your out of pocket costs are going to be.  This includes premiums, coinsurance, and co-pays  These costs are listed up front from insurers.

For people who have constant or lifelong prescriptions, it’s crucial to confirm that your medicines are covered by an insurance plan.  Individual health insurance plans have been putting annual limits on coverage for a long time, but that will be disappearing soon.  Before all plans follow the new criteria, check your annual coverage limits and see if your insurance company has applied for any waivers to avoid eliminating their limits.  Dependents are allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance plans through the age of 26 now, so factor them in when you are choosing or changing a health insurance plan.  Finally, spend the time to research many different health insurance plans.  You certainly don’t want to make a costly mistake when shopping for health insurance, so be sure to walk through multiple plans and work with an expert when necessary.

Health Insurance Plans Cancelled; Unintended Side Effect of Affordable Care Act

Monday, October 21st, 2013

An unintended side effect of the Affordable Care Act seems to be the cancellation of some individual health insurance plans by insurers.  Business Insider’s Josh Barro gives the main reasons in “Here’s Why So Many Americans Are Getting Letters Saying Their Health Insurance Is Canceled.”  There are 14 million Americans who have health insurance individually, either by choice of because they don’t have the option of employer sponsored insurance coverage.  President Obama told those Americans that they would not have to make any changes when the Affordable Care Act went into law.  While he likely believed that to be the case, Kaiser Health News has found that many insurance companies are sending cancellation notices to those people that their plans cover.  People are being forced to change plans for a couple different reasons.

Many health insurance plans don’t meet the new standards required by the health insurance laws.  All plans have to include coverage of 10 essential health benefits, have specific individual and family limits on out of pocket costs, and insurers have to pay a certain percentage of the costs their participants charge.  Plans that don’t meet the requirements will be cancelled and you’ll have to get a plan that does meet these new requirements.  Those plans will cost more, so make sure to see if you qualify for a government subsidy.  The other big grouping of plans likely to be cancelled are those with a large number of particularly high risk insureds.  Plans like that cost a lot of money, but now that there will be more choices for people with pre-existing conditions, the plans could be more affordable through exchanges than they have been outside of them.

Some have questioned why individual plans will even exist outside of the health insurance exchanges once the entire law is in effect since subsidies are only available through exchange plans and the laws are mostly the same.  One reason is that not everyone qualifies for a subsidy anyways, so they don’t necessarily need to shop in an insurance exchange.  There are some plans being grandfathered in that won’t have to follow all of the stipulations of the Affordable Care Act.  Those plans offered before March 2010 will likely be more affordable and will only be available outside of the exchanges.  Since the Healthcare.gov exchange websites have had some hiccups thus far, if you aren’t looking for a specific plan offered or a subsidy, you don’t have to worry about using that website and can shop outside of exchanges.

Chicago Employers Passing On Health Insurance Increases to Employees

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Employers are passing large health insurance increases on to their employees, larger than the increases they are even facing.  According the The Chicago Tribune’s Peter Frost, Chicago employers are increasing the percentage of health care costs paid by employees by 9% this year.  The article “Increase in employer health insurance costs at a 5-year low” points out that large employers in Chicago only saw their health insurance costs increase by 3% this year.  While it is still an increase in their costs, this is the lowest increase in the past five years.  Costs went from $10,434 annually per employee to $10,753 this year.  This Chicago specific data came from a study done by Aon Hewitt, which compiles data for 516 large companies in the United States.

The 9% employee increase comes through higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance.  Costs per employee went from $4,715 in 2013 to $5,135 this year.  Unfortunately for employees, their costs are expected to rise another 9% next year to $5,613.  Workers are paying 22% of their overall health care premiums, an increase of close to 20% over the past ten years.  Forty-seven percent of employers have increased employee costs related to health care in the last year.  Almost as many companies said that they plan to do so as well within the next five years.  Aon predicts the smaller employer increases ending soon and anticipates that Chicago will see a 6.6% increase in 2014, based on changes from the Affordable Care Act.

You are considered lucky if you have health insurance coverage through your employer, even with premium or out-of-pocket costs that are increasing.  If you want to compare health insurance plans and see if you can get a more affordable individual plan, Compare Health Rates can help you with that.  Make sure to compare all of the details before making any big health insurance changes.

Affordable Care Act Questions Answered

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The health insurance exchanges are now open and despite some initial glitches and system overload, response has been fairly positive.  People still have a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act, so NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman answered questions asked by Americans regarding the new health care law.  As NBC News chief medical editor, Dr. Snyderman offered a wealth of information about how we will all be affected in “Health exchanges open. What now? Dr. Nancy Snyderman answers your questions.” I’ve summarized the important information she relays on the NBC News website.

People who have health insurance through their job do not have to do anything.  You can shop around in the exchanges for a better value, but keep in mind that you won’t get any tax credits for an exchange plan if you have an available plan through your work.  Premium payments will be made directly to the insurance company whose plan you choose.  There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not premiums will increase for those who already have health insurance plans and unfortunately, only time will give the answer to that question.  If you qualify for a tax credit, you can choose to lower your premium right from the start or get an estimated tax credit the following year.

All doctors are not necessarily required to cover all plans, so check the details of your particular plan to confirm the doctors you can see.  If you are eligible for a plan through your spouse’s employer but want to search for your own through an exchange, you are not eligible for a tax credit.  Even someone young who is in college full time and does not work could be penalized if they do not purchase health insurance.  But they can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26 because of the new law, so that might be a better option than purchasing their own.  Starting January 1, preventative care will be available at no cost, including birth control pills for women.  If you need insurance because of a “qualifying life event” like a job loss after March 31, 2014 you can still obtain it.

American citizens living abroad will not be penalized if they don’t have health insurance.  People with pre-existing conditions can now get insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act.  Your costs will be based on the number of people you want to cover and how much money you make.  Older Americans will not lose anything if they are already on Medicare and they may gain some added benefits.  The penalty if you do not have health insurance will appear when you file your taxes and will vary based on income.  Within two years the penalty jumps to a much higher amount.  You can sign up at healthcare.gov and get even more questions answered.  If you want to compare health insurance plans, you can also click here.