If you are a business owner, self-employed or an employee of a company that is not offering medical coverage though your employer, you may have to undertake the frustrating, daunting and time consuming task of purchasing health insurance on your own. If this is the case, there are certain things that you can do as a consumer to ensure that you are purchasing the type of health insurance coverage you really need at a price you can afford.
When you purchase a health insurance plan, you must achieve a balance between four important variables; wants, needs, risk and cost, before you spend your money. Although you may "want" a health plan that offers you 100% coverage and a $5 co-pay for prescription medications, you may not "need" this type of health plan if you are healthy, take no medications and do not have any significant health related "risk" factors. Since a 100% health plan may "cost" significantly more than a health plan with 80/20 coverage, it may not be in your best interest to pay higher monthly premiums for coverage that you are not likely to use. In addition to weighing the aforementioned key variables, it is also critical that you understand the limitations of your coverage.
The following is a list of 10 key questions that you should ask your insurance agent, BEFORE making a decision to purchase a health insurance policy:
1. What insurance company do you represent and are you a "captive" agent, "independent" agent or insurance "broker?" (e.g. A "captive" agent usually represents ONE insurance company and can usually only sell that company's insurance products. An "independent" agent or insurance "broker" usually represents many insurance carriers and can sell a variety of insurance products.)
2. What is the plan's calendar year deductible and would I have to pay a separate deductible for each family member if everyone in my family became ill at the same time? (e.g. The majority of health plans have a per person calendar year deductible, for example, $250, $500, $1,000, or $2,500. However, some plans will only require you to pay a 2 person maximum deductible each calendar year, even if everyone in your family needed extensive medical care.)
3. What is the plan's coinsurance percentage and what dollar amount (stop loss) it this percentage based on? (e.g. A plan with 80/20 coverage means you pay 20% of some dollar amount. This dollar amount is also known as a stop loss and can vary based on the type of policy you purchase. Stop losses can be as little as $5,000 or $10,000 or as much as $20,000. It is also important to note that some policies have NO stop loss.)
4. What is the plan's maximum out of pocket expenses per year? (e.g. This expense is a total of all deductibles plus all coinsurance percentages plus all applicable "access fees" or other fees.)
5. What is the plan's lifetime maximum benefit if I become seriously ill and does the plan have any "per illness" maximums or caps? (e.g. Some plans may have a $5 million lifetime maximum, but the policy many stipulate that there is a maximum benefit cap of $100,000 per illness. This means that you would have to develop many separate and unrelated life-threatening illnesses costing $100,000 or less to qualify for $5 million of lifetime coverage.)
6. Is the plan a schedule plan, in that it only pays a certain amount for a specific list of procedures? (e.g. Mega Life & Health & Midwest National Life, endorsed by the National Association of the Self-Employed, N.A.S.E. agents are known for selling schedule plans.)
7. Does the plan have unlimited doctor co-pays or is there a limited number of doctor co-pay visits per year? (e.g. Many plans have a limit of how many times you can go to the doctor per year for a co-pay and, quite often, the limit is 2-4 visits.)
8. Does the plan offer prescription drug coverage and if it does what type of coverage? (e.g. Some plans offer prescription benefits right away, other plans will require you to pay a separate drug deductible before you can receive prescription medication for a co-pay. Today, many plans offer no outpatient prescription drug co-pay options and only provide you with a discount prescription card that gives you a 10-20% discount on all prescription medications.)
9. Does the plan have any reduction in benefits for organ transplants and if so, what is the maximum the plan will pay out for an organ transplant? (e.g. Some plans only pay a $100,000 maximum benefit for organ transplants for a procedure that actually costs $350-$500K and this $100,000 maximum may also include reimbursement for expensive anti-rejection medications that must be taken after a transplant. If this is the case, you may be required to pay for anti-rejection medication out of pocket.)
10. Does the plan have any separate deductible or "access fee" for each hospital admission or for each emergency room visit? (e.g. Some plans, like the Assurant Health's "CoreMed" plan have a separate $750 hospital admission fee or "Access Fee" that you pay for the first 3 days of a hospital admission. "Access Fees" are in addition to your plan deductible. Also, many plans have benefit "caps" or "access fees" for out-patient services, such as, physical therapy, speech therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. Benefit "caps" could be as little as $500 for each out-patient treatment, leaving you a bill for the remaining balance. Access fees are additional fees that you pay per treatment. For example, for each outpatient chemotherapy treatment, you may be required to pay a $250 "access fee" per treatment. So for 40 chemotherapy treatments, you would have to pay 40 x $250 = $10,000.)
Remember, your health insurance purchase is just as important as purchasing a house or a car, if not more important. So don't be afraid to ask your insurance agent a lot of questions to make sure that you understand what your health plan does and does not cover. And, most importantly, read all of the "fine print" in your health plan brochure and when you receive your policy, take the time to read through your policy during your 10-day free look period.
Lastly, if you have any concerns about an insurance company, contact your state's Department of Insurance BEFORE you buy your policy. Your state's Department of Insurance can tell you if the insurance company is registered in your state and can also tell you if there have been any complaints against that company that have been filed by policy holders. If you suspect that your agent is trying to sell you a fraudulent insurance policy, (e.g. you have to become a member of a union to qualify for coverage) or isn't being honest with you, your state's Department of Insurance can also check to see if your agent is licensed and whether or not there has ever been any disciplinary action previously taken against that agent.
About the Author:
C. Steven Tucker is the President of Small Business Insurance Services Inc. a multi-state licensed Independent insurance brokerage firm. He has been interviewed regarding health insurance and insurance in general by the Wall Street Journal, DHL Worldwide and Real Estate Executive Magazine. Mr. Tucker believes he can help consumers make more educated choices before they purchase a health plan. He has written many articles in this endeavor. These articles can be viewed on many Business Networking sites around the web http://activerain.com/blogs/smallbusinssvcs
If you have a general question relating to health insurance or are in the market to purchase a policy, please feel free to contact him directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his online insurance brokerage firm here www.smallbusinessinsuranceservices.com