2008 Insurance Guide
a brown sign reading "health" in grass with a blue sky background
insurance
Buying private health insurance

And then there is rescission. Some consumers report that after making claims during or after an illness, their carriers reviewed their applications, falsely accused them of lying about health issues, and rescinded coverage, says Flanagan. Not only are the consumers suddenly without insurance, but carriers sometimes send them a bill for any claims that have already been paid.

"It's a horrible place to be," he says.

Smart shopping

One of the biggest hurdles for consumers who are used to having group coverage at work is starting the search.

If you're buying, you need to know who's selling. Go to your state insurance department Web site for a list of licensed companies and brokers who sell health insurance in your area. The state site will also have information about complaints (including complaint ratios), that paint a picture of which companies are giving the best service.

Many states offer a "buyer's guide" to walk you through the process and will provide cost comparisons from different types of policies, says Praeger.

You can also find local NAHU member agents through the group's Web site.

Or get a referral from someone you trust. "The personal recommendations go a long way," says Leavitt.

Then take some time to consider what you want in a policy, says Flanagan. What's your target premium? What kind of deductible and co-pay? What's the scope of service you need (exclusions, screenings, annual checkups, etc.)?

After that, thoroughly search the Internet. Visit sites that offer quotes to see what kind of coverage you're offered and at what price. Compare not just different carriers, but different types of plans with the same carrier.

As you compile information on various policies, keep a chart, says Flanagan. Jot down the company, the premium, what it covers and what it doesn't, along with any outstanding benefits or drawbacks.

"Consumers really have to arm themselves before they get insurance," he says.

Find an agent

Independent agents will represent more than one company, so you can cover more ground with one call.

However, not all independent agents are bias-free, warns Flanagan. Some may receive incentives to push certain policies or may get commissions from carriers, he says. So be prepared to make some more calls (and do some extra research on your own) to make sure you're truly being offered the best deal, he says.

A good independent agent will know who is serving people with your health or lifestyle profile, says Gibbs. While one company may decline everyone with asthma and allergies, another firm could see the conditions as a small thing, he says. To complicate matters, a company's underwriting practices can change. So even if you're a bad risk for them today, they might want your business next year. But a good agent should be able to play matchmaker and help you find the right fit, he says.

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