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Getting health insurance on your own -- Page 2

Keep in mind that an individual health plan may be less comprehensive than the group plan you may have had through a former employer, and may impose more limits on benefits.

For tips on comparing individual health plans, check out this worksheet from

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Ways to control costs
If you're looking to land some solid health care coverage but can't afford a hefty premium, you might want to choose a plan with a higher deductible.

Most health plans come with $250 to $300 deductible. By opting for a plan with a $1,000 or $3,000 or even $5,000 deductible, you can really knock down the cost of your premium.

"You can get it down sometimes to $100 or $150 a month if you go for a high enough deductible," Schoeni says.

By opting for a higher deductible, you're agreeing to take on more of the upfront and routine costs of your medical care on your own in exchange for a much lower premium. The aim of this type of coverage is to protect you in the case of a catastrophic medical expense.

Another way to bring down health care costs is to opt for a health plan through an HMO. If you're healthy, you could easily knock down your costs to less than $200 a month.

"You don't have to pay very much if you use their doctors and only go to their facilities," Schoeni says.

Check out the Blues
Lieberman suggests looking into individual policies available from your local Blue Cross Blue Shield organization. This company has a long history of offering individual health plans with good benefits.

People looking for bare-bones health coverage may be tempted by super-cheap, short-term plans. But you'll want to shop carefully. These plans are chock-full of limits and exclusions.

"They may be OK unless they don't pay anything," Schoeni says. "You have to look at what percentage they pay if something happens."

Short-term shortcomings
Short-term plans won't cover pre-existing medical conditions. And if you develop any kind of medical condition that needs continual treatment, you'll have to find a way to pay for it on your own after your short-term coverage ends in two to six months. As noted earlier, finding individual insurance when you've got a medical condition that requires treatment is tough, expensive and sometimes impossible.

Not ready to give up the benefits of group insurance coverage? Consider getting health care through a professional, trade or alumni association.

Many associations offer group health insurance to their members. Be sure to study the plan carefully before signing up. And you may want to ask about rate increases. Some association health plans raise rates for everyone whenever a member makes a claim.

And beware of scams. Not all association health care plans are on the up and up.

Unhealthy associations
"Some associations are phony associations set up only to sell insurance," Lieberman says. "Those policies are really unregulated and you could find yourself with huge rate increases down the road."

When shopping for health insurance from an association, it's best to stick with professional groups you're already familiar with.

"If the Chamber of Commerce is offering a policy, it's probably on the up and up," Lieberman says. "Checking with your state insurance department is a good place to start." This map links to each state's insurance department.

If you're married, an obvious way to enjoy the benefits of a group plan from an employer is to sign up for your spouse's company plan at the next open enrollment period.

A last resort
Another way to attain individual health care is through your state's insurance pool. Under federal law, every state must provide this choice, sometimes called a high-risk pool.

Unfortunately for consumers, these last-chance insurance pools aren't all they're cracked up to be. For one thing, they're expensive. You may have to shell out several hundred dollars a month for coverage. And there's no guarantee you'll even get in.

"There's always a very, very long waiting list to get into that pool," Schoeni says. "It's not just a matter of needing it."

-- Posted: Dec. 2, 2003




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