insurance

Will a high-deductible health plan save you money?

"I'd rather have lower amounts taken out of my paycheck," says Darling, "manage my own health care and use generic drugs." Don't go to emergency rooms if you can avoid it, she says -- you can save a lot of money.

Drawbacks

Getting socked with high deductibles. You'll feel the pinch if you get sick and must pay for costs out of your own pocket. That means you must be a good money manager by putting aside, say, $200 per month via your health savings account.

And that's not all. High-deductible plans may include high copayments, caps on hospitalization costs and other out-of-pocket costs. To compare plans, talk to your employer's benefits specialist.

However, if your high-deductible plan ends up being an ill fit, consider changing to a more traditional health insurance plan. You can do it once per year. "If you're not organized enough," says Darling, "you'll want something else you'll pay more for."

Forgoing crucial care. According to a report issued by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, individuals with high-deductible plans are less likely to visit an emergency room, and they also "delay necessary treatment or doctor visits."

This worries Dugan. "The intent was that people would be savvy consumers and shop for a doctor like a mechanic," she says. "But the medical system is nontransparent. In most states, you can't find out what doctors or hospitals charge. And your life is not the same as an automobile."

Dugan says that when you're ill, your mental frame of mind isn't suited to researching these complex medical costs.

The message: Patient, know thyself.

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