Being uninsured is not an option

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Being uninsured is not an option

If you are a relatively healthy person living within the confines of a tight budget, health insurance might seem like an unnecessary expense - until you need a chest x-ray, blood work or emergency gallbladder surgery.
 
It's easy to ignore healthcare costs until an emergency makes them important. And by that time, the costs you face may be greater than what health insurance would have cost in the first place. If you think there's no room in your budget for health insurance now, there's certainly less room for the potentially catastrophic costs associated with serious illness or injury.
 
Simply put, health insurance is something you can't afford not to have. Fortunately, there are affordable forms of health insurance that can provide you with meaningful coverage and keep you from drowning in medical bills.
 
What types of health insurance are there?
Health insurance plans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Base your decision on the specific benefits provided, how much control you'd like over your healthcare, and how much you can afford in monthly premiums, copayments and deductibles. While no health plan covers 100 percent of medical costs all the time, some pay for more than others. As in most things, the more you pay, the more you get.
 
If you want the freedom to choose your doctor, specialists and healthcare facilities, then the traditional indemnity or fee-for-service plan might be right for you. An indemnity plan will usually charge you an annual deductible - such as $500 - before it picks up your medical costs. Once you've paid your deductible, the health insurance company will cover a percentage -- generally 80 percent -- of what it considers to be the "usual and customary" fee for a service. Your share, termed "coinsurance," is the remaining 20 percent.
 
If a medical service or doctor visit exceeds the "usual and customary" rates, then you may pay the tab for coinsurance, plus the difference. You may also get the entire bill for annual checkups and other forms of preventive care, although indemnity plans may pay for your medical tests and prescriptions.
 
Managed care plans are often less expensive than fee-for-service plans, though there are many kinds of managed care plans, some of which allow more choice - and cost more - than others. A typical managed care "health maintenance organization,"(HMO) plan charges a monthly premium for a range of basic health services, including checkups and other preventive care.
 
HMOs and other managed care plans limit your selection of healthcare providers and will ask you to choose a primary care doctor from a list of doctors who participate in the health plan. That doctor will manage all your care and refer you to specialists when needed. Most HMOs also charge a co-payment - sometimes as low as $5 or $10 - for office visits, hospitalizations, or other services. If you receive treatment outside the HMO network, you may pay for it in full.
 
It might be worthwhile to find out if your professional organization offers a health plan for members. Or, ask a health insurance broker about indemnity and managed care plans for individuals. Finally, call your state insurance department to find out if your state provides insurance for small groups or the self-employed. The Internet is a great place to discover the variety of plans that may be available in your area. Online health insurance sites --such as www.ehealthinsurance.com-- offer health insurance options in an organized manner that is easily understood.
 
Asking The Right Questions
Decide what services you need and what you can live without; how much variety and convenience you want and how much you can afford. Consider how much you spent on healthcare last year, and how your medical needs may change, should you decide to start a family, retire, or develop a chronic or disabling illness. And think about the services you may not need, as well. These can include maternity benefits, mental health services or prescription coverage.
 
Compare plans and figure out what each will cost you in premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Find out what percentage of medical costs different plans pay and whether that amount changes with different kinds of services, doctors, or health facilities.
 
If you're considering an HMO, ask how much more you'll have to pay for out-of-network doctors or services. Finally, check to see if a plan caps the amount of care it will cover in a year or over your lifetime.
 
If you can't afford any kind of private or group coverage, you may be eligible for qualify for a state or federal program, such as Medicare, which covers Americans over 65 or with certain disabilities, or Medicaid, which covers individuals with low incomes.
 
SOURCES: Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, Washington, D.C., http://www.life-line.org/hi_who.html; The Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for HealthCare Research and Quality, Washington, D.C., http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/hlthpln1.htm#choices
eHealthInsurance is the nation's leading online source of health insurance. eHealthInsurance offers thousands of health plans underwritten by more than 180 of the nation's health insurance companies, including Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Compare plans side by side, get health insurance quotes, apply online and find affordable health insurance today.
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