Lower Your Costs

Cutting Corners: How to Lower Your Costs

When you're shopping for an individual health insurance policy, it pays to do your homework. Ask yourself the following key questions:
  • How important is it that I keep the doctor I have now?
    If you have a particular physician in mind, that might dictate whether a PPO or an HMO is right for you, depending on whether he or she belongs to that insurance company's network.

  • Do I prefer certain specialists?
    Keep in mind that some plans limit not only your visits but also who you can see. If you want to see an acupuncturist or chiropractor, be sure to ask your insurance agent or broker about coverage for these services. Psychotherapy and other mental-health services will probably have specific guidelines and limitations as well.

  • What are my health insurance goals?
    If you want a comprehensive plan and don't want a lot of out-of-pocket expenses an HMO provides a very cost-effective way to cover you from womb to tomb. But if you're in your 20s or 30s, have no children and some extra savings, you can save by buying a policy that covers only catastrophic illnesses. Remember, though, you'll have to pay out of your own pocket for every routine doctor's visit or laboratory test.
If you can afford to pay for routine care on your own, look for comprehensive inpatient/outpatient plans with higher deductibles rather than trimmed-down hospital/surgical plans. A hospital/surgical plan might cost up to 40 percent less, but if you end up in the hospital, the last thing you need is to worry about how you're going to pay for your follow-up care once you get out of there.

If you are leaning towards a more well-rounded plan, make sure you're getting what you pay for. Read the fine print. Will your plan pay for X-rays? Will it cover your doctor's visit if you have the flu? Will it cover prescription drugs?

The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research offers guidelines for estimating your future health care costs and comparing several policies. Consider the annual premiums, the deductibles, co-payments, annual limits, and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. This should give you a good idea of what your yearly costs will be for each policy. Don't let a "cheap" policy fool you. Make sure you check whether the "best buy" will give you access to the kinds of services you might require.

Join the Group

Depending on the state in which you live, your options might be more varied and even more confusing. In Florida, for instance, a self-employed, sole proprietor can be eligible to buy health insurance as a business even a home-based one if he can prove that he's been in business for at least 30 days.

If you live in a state that does not offer these "group of one" insurance policies, you might still qualify for a group rate if you own a business and have at least one other partner or employee. Does your wife do some bookkeeping for your company? That's a two-person business, eligible for a group rate and a group policy.

But even if you're not in business, don't consign yourself just yet to buying an individual policy if you prefer group insurance. You may be able to find a group plan through your fraternal organization, alumni association, trade association, or your chamber of commerce. All of these are potential sources of group health insurance.

Finding a cost-effective individual health policy can be tricky but it's not rocket science. Talk to other people around you who are in the same circumstances. Do your homework and you'll find the health insurance policy that's right for you.