6 tips for buying health insurance
In some ways, buying an individual health insurance plan is easier than ever. Plans from various carriers may be quickly accessed and compared at your convenience. Online health insurance quotes take seconds. Depending on the coverage you choose, applying and enrollment take only minutes as well.
But don’t be fooled by the easiness. Selecting the right health insurance plan for you and your family is a serious financial decision. Here are six tips for making an online health insurance purchase you can feel good about, whether you are looking for individual major medical, critical illness, short-term medical, or hospital and surgical insurance.
1. Assess your needs
Purchasing health insurance is a financial commitment that can mean paying for more than you need or paying more for what you need if you do not select appropriate coverage.
- How long will you need coverage? For instance, if you are newly self-employed, you will want to look into an individual major medical plan. However, you mightconsider a short-term medical plan if you recently lost your job or are in some other temporary situation without insurance and need coverage to get you through the gap.
- How do you use health insurance? Do you typically see the doctor for preventive care visits and rely on insurance for the unexpected? Or do you visit the doctorseveral times a year? Consider the medical needs and expenses for every person in your family throughout recent years. List any ongoing medical conditions, surgeries, hospital stays, medications, etc.
- Do you anticipate a change in medical needs? If you are planning to have a baby or foresee using health insurance more or less than you have in the past, takethat into consideration as well. Are there hereditary health conditions in your family that you risk developing at this point in your life? That is also something to consider.
- Do you need extra protection? Would an ancillary plan that pays lump-sum benefits for hospital stays, surgery, and major illnesses, such as limited medical or critical illness coverage be help you save money?
2. Know your budget
Look at the entire picture. What can you afford to spend on health care? Consider premium, copay, coinsurance, prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, services not covered by insurance and any other out-of-pocket medical expenses. Also factor in dental and vision coverage, as well as any ancillary coverage such as critical illness. Knowing how much you can spend will be important when obtaining online health insurance quotes and comparing plans.
3. Gather information and health history
At a minimum, you will need to have the birth dates, addresses, and coverage start dates of everyone on the health insurance policy you apply for. A limited medical insurance plan will likely be guaranteed issue, which means no underwriting and instant approval. Individual major medical, on the other hand, will require health histories for each applicant in addition to a certificate of coverage from the previous carrier. You will need to provide information such as:
- Surgeries and hospitalizations, including datesthey took place
- Medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, allergies, diabetes, etc.
- Prescription drugs taken in recent years, including start/end dates and dosage
- Doctor visits in recent years, including dates and reasons seen
- Irregular test results
- Family medical history, including cause of death for deceased family members
Have this information ready so you can sit down and complete the application without disruption.
4. Compare plans and premiums
You are not committed to anything by getting an online health insurance quote, so take your time with the decision. Get a few quotes. Once you narrow them down to a few that fit your budget, compare the details closely. Look at premium, coinsurance, prescription drug coverage, deductible, coinsurance, copays, and other out-of-pocket costs. Run the numbers as they apply to your expected use of benefits, and make sure the plan makes sense for your budget as well as your health care needs.
Also look at quality and customer satisfaction. You can compare health plan quality ratings at reliable, independent websites like HealthPocket.com or the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s Health Plan Report Card.
5. Look at network providers
Take the top plans you are considering and examine their provider lists. Will you have in-network access to the doctors, specialists, clinics and hospitals you prefer or that are most convenient for you?
6. Ask the experts
You will likely have many questions as you go through the process. Ask them before you apply and start paying premiums!
If you wish to use an insurance agent to help you find plans and understand coverage, consult with family members and friends for recommendations. You may also find contact information for licensed agents at your state’s department of commerce or the National Association of Health Underwriters.
If you choose to shop online independently and buy directly from a carrier, you can still ask questions and gather additional information via the website’s chat feature or toll-free phone number.