Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It’s a Wash, Right?

Met with one of our clients today; he’s 62, his spouse is 65. A retiree, he’s concerned about making the right choice for his health insurance. Having just gone through a similar election process myself, I was only too happy to help him noodle it through.
Mort (not his real name) was debating between staying with the generic PPO plan, or switching to the new HSA (Health Savings Account) option. On the one hand, this is pretty momentous: leaving the low deductible “generic” plan with its prescription drug card and (seemingly) low out of pocket, and moving to a high deductible plan can be scary.
On the other hand, he can switch back next year, so even the worst-case scenario really isn’t a big deal.
Still, it’s a paradigm shift, and there are some complications [ed: aren’t there always?]. For one thing, his wife is Medicare eligible, which means that (in this case), she really can’t take advantage of the plan. However, this is still considered “family” coverage, so we had to use the family (i.e. 2x) rate for the deductible and coinsurance calculations. Ouch!
Another “twist” is that, if Mort goes with the PPO plan, he’ll be required to contribute almost $1,000 in premium over the course of the year. If he chooses the HSA plan, no such contribution is required; in fact, he could dump the whole thing into the loss-fund account itself. Sweet.
So why was this a difficult decision? Well, the numbers kept canceling each other out. It was the weirdest thing: my typical experience with group HSA’s is that usually there’s a big difference in what comes out of the client’s pocket (a lot) and how much he saves (not so much). This, in fact, has been my primary complaint with HSA’s in the group market: there just isn’t enough play in the premium to make them attractive (yes, broad brush, but true nonetheless).
In this case, though, something interesting happened: turns out that, when we looked at the worst case scenario (maximum OOP for a catastrophic claim), the HSA plan saved Mort almost $1,000; and if he had a “normal” year (some meds and office visits), he essentially comes out even.
Which will he choose? Don’t know, but he’s supposed to call me when he decides. I’ve got own guess, of course, but I’ll have to wait.
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