4 Things to Look For When Comparing Health Insurance Plans

4 Things to Look For When Comparing Health Insurance Plans

1000 667 Jennifer Nelson

So, you know you need health insurance. That’s a great place to start, but it’s a little like saying you want to write the next great American novel — a noble goal, but how exactly do you accomplish it? Luckily, getting insured is quite a bit easier than becoming the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’re just a few steps away from comparing health insurance plans and finding a winner.

Take Stock of Your Needs

Before purchasing a new plan or changing an existing one, take a moment to reflect on your health care needs and preferences. Different plans are better for different people, and of course you want the one that suits you the best.

For instance, how often do you see your doctor? Do you or anyone else who will be on the plan have any surgeries or pregnancies planned? How important is accessibility — do you need 24/7 customer care support and online access to a website or mobile app, or are you fine with a more limited phone number you can call during business hours?

There’s a lot that goes into looking for an insurance plan, but the following four checkpoints are a fantastic place to start.

Checkpoint 1: Does My Current Plan Still Work for Me?

Rather than just signing off on the same policy every year, take time during open enrollment to comparison shop between at least two plans. Analyze the benefits that matter most to you, like prescription coverage or emergency services, and check whether another policy would give you better coverage for a similar price.

Keep track of time, though — open enrollment can whiz by before you know it, leaving you stuck with your same policy or worse: uninsured.

Checkpoint 2: Are My Preferred Doctors on My Plan?

When you enroll in a new plan, there’s always a chance you’ll have to leave your current doctor as your network changes. If you don’t want to switch doctors, you should be highly aware of what different plans’ networks look like.

Consider your out-of-network coverage as well — if your doctor is outside of your network, will the plan still cover at least part of your care with them?

Checkpoint 3: What’s the Most Cost-Efficient Plan for Me?

Once you’ve got a few policies lined up to examine, do the math. Is a plan that just covers major medical emergencies better for you than a full-coverage plan? If you’re fairly healthy and don’t expect to need frequent medical care, then it might not be worth it to pay for more extensive plan. In the same vein, would you save more money by choosing a plan with lower monthly payments and a higher deductible or one with a lower deductible but more expensive premiums every month?

Here’s where asking the people around you for advice can get you into trouble — a plan that’s cheaper for your friends or family members could be much more expensive for you, depending on how you use it.

Checkpoint 4: Are There Any Gaps in My Coverage?

When you change plans, you run the risk of exposing gaps in your coverage. Some policies don’t go into effect for up to six weeks after you enroll, for example. Don’t go uninsured during that period — a short-term plan can provide interim coverage and protect you from major medical expenses while you wait for your policy to kick in.

Once your coverage does start, you may notice your plan isn’t as bulletproof as you’d like. If there’s a spot where you’d like additional coverage — hospital visits, for instance — then consider using a supplemental plan like hospital indemnity insurance to fill the gap.

The only way to find the best coverage for your situation is by comparing health insurance plans. Run through each plan’s monthly premiums, copays, coinsurance and deductibles, and weigh the plan’s cost against what it offers. While there’s no universal answer to what the best plan is, it’s absolutely possible to find the best plan for you.

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson is an award winning health, health IT, and personal finance writer.

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