Shopping for Health Insurance? Start Here

June 15, 2010

In the wake of healthcare reform, many practical questions remain, including: How do I find and select a reasonable plan?

For the previously uninsured who are now interested in purchasing their own healthcare insurance, Claudia Buck of McClatchy Newspapers has put together a “How to Shop for Health Insurance” guide.

It’s quick and cursory — but it gives a decent starting point, especially for anyone overwhelmed by the possibilities. It provides a needed warning about brokers — check if the broker or agent is licensed and in good standing — and it dispenses some good advice for those who are doing their own online shopping (on a site like ehealthinsurance.com):

Pay attention to what’s covered. The lowest premium, for instance, may carry a high deductible (the amount you spend out of pocket before insurance starts paying). And it may not include much or any coverage for prescriptions and hospital stays.

When we typed in a price quote for a single, nonsmoking female, age 27, for instance, there were 124 choices, ranging from a $54-per-month Anthem Blue Cross premium ($5,000 deductible and $40 office visits) to a $375-per-month Health Net premium (no deductible and $25 office visits).

It also includes a useful sidebar of what has and has not yet changed — in terms of pre-existing conditions and dependent coverage, for example — due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act passed in March.

What is most interesting, and potentially ground-breaking, is the advice about paying cash for your healthcare and demanding a “fair price” for specific services from doctors. The story notes that the Healthcare Blue Book — a guide to pricing of a wide variety of procedures — can help someone with a high-deductible (or no insurance) search for bargains.

Harnessing this individual bargain-shopping is, in fact, the latest craze for cutting healthcare costs. Claire Cain Miller writes in The New York Times about how venture capitalists — and at least one major health care provider — are funding efforts to provide more transparent access to healthcare pricing so patients can easily determine (and compare) the costs of a recommended procedure. One start-up, Castlight Health, has visions of patients checking costs on their mobile phone while sitting on the exam table — and promises to have that capacity by next year.

Plus: Speaking of healthcare reform, a new study published in the correspondence section of the New England Journal of Medicine asserts that the great majority of doctors reject the healthcare reform recommendations from the American Medical Association — their supposedly representative professional organization — and support a much more robust public insurance option than the organization has backed.

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