Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Empowering Ourselves...

For many of us, health insurance is provided by our employer, so we have little opportunity to access typical Consumer Driven Health Care (CDHC) products. High Deductible, catastrophic plans and HSA’s are not often available, and not every company has a knowledgeable HR person (or even any HR person) to answer questions or address concerns we might have.
But there are ways to empower ourselves and take advantage of at least some of the benefits of CDHC. Most cafeteria plans now include a high-deductible option, or one with higher co-pays for office visits. Some even offer plans with no office co-pays, where one pays a percentage (typically 20% to 30%) of these smaller claims, in return for a lower premium. By choosing one of these plans, we realize savings that can go toward paying the smaller, routine claims, but maintain the safety net portion of the plan for those unexpected “big ticket” items.
Years ago, before HIPAA, I sold quite a few MSA (Medical Savings Account) plans. Of course, these were what we’d now call “non-qualified,” which means that there were no tax benefits. But that also meant no government intervention or “gotcha’s;” one could spend the money however one chose. Folks without access to an HSA can accomplish much the same thing by diverting the premium savings into a passbook account. Or even a mutual fund, although I’d recommend choosing one that concentrates on growth, and has a conservative risk profile: this is “rainy day” money, and is likely to be needed right away if needed at all.
Another area where folks can save premium dollars is in dependent coverage. For convenience’ sake, a lot of people choose to cover their spouse and children under the company plan, even though they may have to pay most (or all) of the premium. While this may make sense for some (especially young families who think they need maternity coverage, or those who have severe medical problems), there may be substantial premium savings in opting out of the employer-based coverage for dependents, choosing instead an individual major medical plan.
It's worth exploring some of these options -- after all, it's your money!
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