Help With Health Insurance Choices

Making decisions about health insurance is complicated and potentially very costly. It's no surprise that Americans don't do a great job of it. It takes work to figure out the best health insurance options. And few people take the time to do it right.

Alegeus Healthcare, a provider of platforms for corporate insurance plans, compiles an annual Healthcare Consumerism Index that measures the "degree of engagement ... exhibited during healthcare spending and saving decisions." It reports that the index this year jumped to 54.4 from 48.3. So, we're doing better.

But, to put that in perspective, consumers score 78.9 on the index when considering the purchase of a television and 76.2 when evaluating the purchase of a cell phone!

Everyone faces choices. Medicare recipients know that basic coverage is simple, though the monthly premium depends on their income. But they must also choose a supplement plan and a Part D prescription drug plan.

Obamacare participants have to choose the best type of plan to minimize out-of-pocket costs -- comparing deductibles, share of copayments, list of physicians and hospitals, and whether prescription drugs are covered. It's a choice that must be made again every year as your eligibility changes and as the insurers that offer the programs change pricing or drop out of offering coverage.

Individuals and families covered by employers' healthcare plans typically have to choose between a PPO, which includes a choice of physicians, and an HMO-type plan which may limit choice. They may further have the option of a high-deductible plan combined with a health savings account.

Mistakes in these choices are costly. So where can the average consumer turn to get unbiased advice, no matter what type of health insurance coverage they are considering? Perhaps surprisingly, two of the best comparison sites are government sites to help make choices within their plans.

--Medicare.gov
Here you can compare costs and coverage of Medicare supplement plans (called Medigap plans) -- and find the ones that are available in your zip code. All supplement plans are standardized, with varying levels of coverage -- so that's your first decision. Or there's an all-in-one Medicare "advantage" program. Then click to see which insurers provide plans in your area.

--Healthcare.gov
Learn here how Obamacare works and whether you are eligible for a subsidy to lower your costs. You to make choices not only on cost, but on physicians, hospitals and drug coverage included in each. (Note: Even though the open enrollment period is over, if you suddenly need coverage as the result of a qualifying event, you can sign up now.)

--eHealthInsurance.com
This is a private site that also allows you to shop for Obamacare plans at no additional cost. You can speak to an expert who can help advise you on the appropriate plan. You can also search for other types of health insurance.

--NewChoiceHealth.com and HealthcareBluebook.com
These two sites let you shop and compare prices for medical services in your area. If you are paying out of a health savings account, or have a high deductible policy, or are not covered for the service, it pays to shop -- whether you need a mammogram or an MRI. Those are "list" prices however, so you'll also want to ask your insurer how much your out-of-pocket cost will be, depending on the provider you choose.

--Leapfroggroup.org
It's equally important to have information about the hospital you choose, or that is included in your insurance plan. This site makes a pretty good attempt to rank hospitals for safety and outcomes.

All of these decisions are not only financial; they are existential. You owe it to yourself to spend more effort making them than you do on choosing a cell phone plan. And that's The Savage Truth.