Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2007 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5768
Buying private health coverage
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) When Owen Moore got married 20 years ago, he asked his wife to add him to her company health insurance plan. He figured it would be cheaper than the coverage he had with a private insurance.
He was wrong.
"She was paying $300 a month, plus other costs. I was paying less than a $100," said Moore, who owns a property management company in Raleigh, N.C.
Now Moore, 57, pays $276 a month for health coverage for his wife, 50, and their 9-year-old daughter.
In exchange for the low monthly payment, Moore has a high deductible of $10,000.
Many people think the way Moore used to - that it's impossible to find affordable health insurance on the private market.
But that doesn't have to be the case, especially if you're young and have no major health problems. That's why a recent Census Bureau report is so troubling. It showed that 47 million people were uninsured in 2006. Of that group, about 8 million were 18 to 24 years old and 22 million were working adults.
If you're working - or even if you're not - you owe it to yourself and your family to get coverage. With a little research, you can find affordable options. Even if you're not in perfect health, you might be able to find coverage you can afford.
And like Moore, if you don't mind a high deductible, you could even do better on your own than with an employer plan. And not all deductibles are as high as Moore's.
Mary R. Jones of Wake Forest, N.C., found that out two years ago.
She was working at a manufacturing company that offered expensive coverage. Total premiums for her family were $700 a month, of which her employer paid half.
Because she had worked in the health insurance field, she knew she could find a cheaper policy. Now she pays $253 a month for herself, her husband and two children. And though she has a $2,500 deductible per person, she has invested the money she saved by forgoing her employee insurance plan.
"We are willing to take a little bit of the risk and put that money in the bank," Jones said.
Finding affordable insurance is a little easier than it used to be because of competition and the Internet.
Many major insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield give free individual quotes online.
There also are online insurance agencies, such as eHealthInsurance, that will provide quotes from several insurance companies. If you don't have access to the Internet, you can call the companies and get a quote over the phone.
The Web site www.ehealthinsurance.com is easy to use and requires minimal personal information to get a quote, such as your family members' ages and information on their smoking and drinking habits. It quickly computes your data and provides you with dozens of quotes from insurance companies including Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and CoventryOne.
When you click on the plan details, you get a list of copayments for regular doctor visits, specialists, prescriptions, mental health and other medical needs.
For instance, quotes for a single mother with one child included $215 a month with a $1,000 deductible, a $132 monthly plan with a $10,000 deductible and a $560 plan with no deductible.
Don Stroud, the owner of Wake Forest insurance agency Hartsfield & Nash said that though insurance companies are starting to offer more options, these plans are not ideal for everyone.
"The plans don't tend to work well for people who have some health concerns or people with younger children," Stroud said.
Consumers in these categories usually have to pay a higher premium to get a lower deductible. Some insurance companies exclude pre-existing conditions from the coverage. For example, Jones said her insurance company does not cover treatment for her husband's pre-existing back condition.
Typically, after you get a quote from an insurance company, you fill out an application that requires more medical details. If you have no health problems, it's unlikely the insurance company will require a physical or additional medical records.
But if you have existing health problems you might be required to provide more information. If you haven't had a recent physical, you might be required to get one at your own expense. As in Jones' case, the insurance company might decide not to cover the pre-existing condition. But you could still get coverage for unforeseen medical problems.
Like any purchase, consumers have to be very careful in selecting an insurance company.
Recently, a number of companies have been caught selling fake policies, said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Insurance.
Pearson urges that before consumers do business with any insurance company, they should call their state insurance department to check the company's status.
"We can tell them how many complaints the company has had, whether it has had any licensing problems or has been fined or had any regulatory actions taken against it," Pearson said.
There are also a number of independent companies that rate insurance companies, she said.
They include A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's, Wiess Rating, and Moody's Investors Service. These companies rate insurers' financial strength and their ability to pay claims, as well as customer service, she said.
Moore said he has no major problems with his private insurance policies over the years. In fact, he has helped a number of friends find cheaper coverage in the private market.
"It's just like when you shop for a car," he said. "People will be surprised what kind of deals they can get."
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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