Health Insurance Buyer’s Guide

Buying Shopping for health insurance can leave many people confused. Knowing which insurance company to choose or which insurance plan is the best may seem daunting impossible. But once you know the basics of health insurance, choosing the right health insurance plan is simple easy.

This article will provide some of the most basic and helpful tools and explanations for health insurance shoppers. First, it is important to learn about helps to understand the different types of health insurance plans and their benefits and drawbacks. Plans differ in the amount you pay out-of-pocket, which doctors you can visit, and how the your insurance bills are paid. Besides just helping you choose the most efficient and cost-effective plan, we’ll teach you about another way you can save on health insurance: a Health Savings Account. Additionally, it is important to learn about dental insurance as well. Many health insurance plans do not include dental insurance under their benefits, so we’ll go over how to shop for and obtain separate dental coverage. Then it is important to learn about ways you can save on health insurance. There are several ways you can save including Health Savings Accounts and Discount Cards. LastlyAnd finally, don’t forget to compare plans before you make your decisionwe’ll explain why it’s so important to put your new knowledge to good use by comparing health insurance plans.

Types of Health Insurance Plans

Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans

Generally, HMOs have low or even no deductible and the co-payments will be relatively comparatively low as well. You pay a monthly premium that gives you access to coverage for doctor appointments, hospital stays, emergency care, tests, x-rays and therapy. You will have to choose a primary care physician (PCP) within your insurance provider’s network of physicians, and in order to see a specialist you need to receive a referral from your PCP. Under an HMO plan, only visits to doctors and hospitals with the insurance company’s network of providers are covered; you’ll have to pay for visits if you go to an out-of-network doctors or hospitals your insurance will not cover the costs.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)

Plans Under a PPO plan, you will use the insurance company’s network of doctors and hospitals for any services or supplies you need. These healthcare providers have been contracted by the insurance company to provide services at a discounted rate. Generally, you will be able to choose doctors and specialists within this network without having to choose a primary care physician or get a referral. Before the insurance company will start paying for your medical bills you will usually need to pay an annual deductible. Also, you may have a co-payment for some services or be required to cover a percentage of the total medical bill.

Point of Service (POS) Plans

A POS plan is a combination of the features offered by HMO and PPO plans. You are required to choose a primary care physician, whose services are not usually subject to a deductible, but your PCP can refer you to out-of-network specialists whose services will be partially covered by your insurance company. Additionally, POS plans usually offer coverage for preventive healthcare, which includes regular checkups. Your PCP will be able to give you referrals for any specialists. If these specialists are out-of-network you will need to pay out-of-pocket and then apply for reimbursement from the insurance company. With a POS plan you will benefit from some of the savings of an HMO and will have greater flexibility in choosing healthcare providers, similar to PPO.

Dental Insurance

It is important to get a dental insurance plan along with your health insurance plan. In order to keep your teeth and gums health you need regular visits to the dentist. Without dental insurance, the cost of dentist appointments will be much higher making it difficult to keep up with the payments. Dental insurance is similar to health insurance in that each month you pay a premium, which entitles you to certain dental benefits. Benefits include checkups, cleanings, x-rays, and other dental services. There are plans that may cover dental implants, oral surgery and orthodontia, but they will be more expensive. Like health insurance, plans are categorized into indemnity and managed-care plans. If you choose an indemnity plan you will have a broader choice of dental care providers to choose from. You won’t have to choose one primary dentist and generally, you won’t need to acquire referrals. In order for the insurance company to cover your dental expenses you will need to send them a claim before they reimburse you for covered services. As a result, you will have to pay more out-of-pocket with an indemnity plan, but you will have more flexibility in choosing which dentists you visit. On the other hand, managed-care plans will provide you with a dental provider network and you will need to visit dentists within this network in order to get coverage for these services. With a dental care network, the insurance company has arranged pre-negotiated rates that you will receive when you visit these dentists. With a managed-care plan, the dentists will submit the claim for you, lowering your out-of-pocket expenses.

Save on Health Insurance

Health Savings Account

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are tax-free savings accounts designed to help consumers pay for healthcare services while limiting premium expenses for unwanted benefits. The plans have lower premiums and higher deductibles than other insurance plans because they offer fewer benefits and require you to use the money in your HSA to pay for certain qualified medical services. However, if you don’t need to visit the doctor frequently and don’t anticipate requiring regular medical attention, HSA plans are a cost-effective method of insuring against the worst without paying for coverage you won’t use. In order to open an HSA, you’ll need to have an HSA-compatible health insurance plan. You may only use the funds in your HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses. Usually, your HSA plan will have a deductible that, once met, requires your insurance company to pay for any additional qualified medical expenses for the rest of the year.

Dental Insurance

Health insurance typically does not cover dental services, but in order to keep your teeth and gums healthy, you need regular visits to the dentist. Without dental insurance, regular dentist appointments can prohibitively expensive. Make sure your mouth is covered by shopping for both health and dental insurance. Dental insurance is similar to health insurance in that each month you pay a premium, which entitles you to certain dental benefits. Benefits include checkups, cleanings, x-rays, and other dental services. There are plans that may cover dental implants, oral surgery and orthodontia, but they will be more expensive. Like health insurance, plans are categorized into indemnity and managed-care plans. If you choose an indemnity plan you will have a broader choice of dental care providers to choose from. You won’t have to choose one primary dentist and generally, you won’t need to acquire referrals for special services. In order for the insurance company to cover your dental expenses you will need to send them a claim for reimbursement. You’ll end up paying more out-of-pocket with an indemnity plan, but you will have more flexibility in choosing which dentists you visit. By contrast, managed-care plans limit you to the doctors and services within a dental services network, and you will need to visit doctors within this network in order to get coverage for their services. Within the dental care network, your insurance company has arranged pre-negotiated rates that you will receive when you visit dentists in the network. Your dentist will submit your insurance claim for you, keeping your out-of-pocket expenses lower than with an indemnity plan.

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Small Business Health Insurance – An Employer’s Guide to Getting Small Business Health Insurance

Saving on your small business health insurance can be a challenge. But there are ways to overcome the financial obstacles and get the coverage necessary for your business. There are two major benefits of employer-based coverage. First these plans, although expensive, usually carry the best all around protection for you and your employees. Second, providing benefits plays a key role in attracting and retaining quality employees.

Why is coverage for small businesses so much more than for large corporations?

Health insurance for small businesses cost so much because of the high quality coverage concentrated among a small group of people. Every individual within the group represents a different level of financial risk to an insurance company, and this risk is added up and spread out among the group. Large corporations pay considerably less because the risk is spread to such a large group, where small business owners can see unreasonably high increases in premiums due to one or two members. Small businesses also have to insure their employees under state mandates, which can require the policies to cover some specific health conditions and treatments. Large corporations’ policies are under federal law, usually self-insured, and with fewer mandated benefits. The Erisa Act of 1974 officially exempted self-funded insurance policies from state mandates, lessening the financial burdens of larger firms.

Isn’t the Health Care Reform Bill going to fix this?

This remains to be seen. There will be benefits for small business owners in the form of insurance exchanges, pools, tax credits, subsidies etc. But you can’t rely on a bill that is still in the works, and you can’t wait for a bill where the policies set forth won’t take effect until about 2013. Additionally, the bill will help you with costs, but still won’t prevent those costs from continually rising. You, as a business owner, will need to be fully aware of what you can do to maintain your bottom line.

What can I do?

First you need to understand the plan options out there. So here they are.

PPO

A preferred provider option (PPO) is a plan where your insurance provider uses a network of doctors and specialists. Whoever provides your care will file the claim with your insurance provider, and you pay the co-pay.

Who am I allowed to visit?

Your provider will cover any visit to a doctor or specialist within their network. Any care you seek outside the network will not be covered. Unlike an HMO, you don’t have to get your chosen doctor registered or approved by your PPO provider. To find out which doctors are in your network, simply ask your doctor’s office or visit your insurance company’s website.

Where Can I Get it?

Most providers offer it as an option in your plan. Your employees will have the option to get it when they sign their employment paperwork. They generally decide on their elections during the open enrollment period, because altering the plan after this time period won’t be easy.

And Finally, What Does It Cover?

Any basic office visit, within the network that is, will be covered under the PPO insurance. There will be the standard co-pay, and dependent upon your particular plan, other types of care may be covered. The reimbursement for emergency room visits generally range from sixty to seventy percent of the total costs. And if it is necessary for you to be hospitalized, there could be a change in the reimbursement. Visits to specialists will be covered, but you will need a referral from your doctor, and the specialist must be within the network.

A PPO is an expensive, yet flexible option for your small business health insurance. It provides great coverage though, and you should inquire with your provider to find out how you can reduce the costs.

HMO (Health Maintenance Organization)

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are the most popular small business health insurance plans. Under an HMO plan you will have to register your primary care physician, as well as any referred specialists and physicians. Plan participants are free to choose specialists and medical groups as long as they are covered under the plan. And because HMOs are geographically driven, the options may be limited outside of a specific area.

Health maintenance organizations help to contain employer’s costs by using a wide variety of prevention methods like wellness programs, nurse hotlines, physicals, and baby-care to name a few. Placing a heavy emphasis on prevention cuts costs by stopping unnecessary visits and medical procedures.

When someone does fall ill, however, the insurance provider manages care by working with health care providers to figure out what procedures are necessary. Usually a patient will be required to have pre-certification for surgical procedures that aren’t considered essential, or that may be harmful.

HMOs are less expensive than PPOs, and this preventative approach to health care theoretically does keep costs down. The downside, however, is that employees may not pursue help when it is needed for fear of denial. That aside, it is a popular and affordable plan for your small business health insurance.

POS (Point of Service)

A Point of Service plan is a managed care insurance similar to both an HMO and a PPO. POS plans require members to pick a primary health care provider. In order to get reimbursed for out-of-network visits, you will need to have a referral from the primary provider. If you don’t, however, your reimbursement for the visit could be substantially less. Out-of-network visits will also require you to handle the paperwork, meaning submit the claim to the insurance provider.

POSs provide more freedom and flexibility than HMOs. But this increased freedom results in higher premiums. Also, this type of plan can put a strain on employee finances when non-network visits start to pile up. Assess your needs and weigh all your options before making a decision.

EPO

An Exclusive Provider Organization Plan is another network-based managed care plan. Members of this plan must choose from a health care provider within the network, but exceptions can be made due to medical emergencies. Like HMOs, EPOs focus on preventative care and healthy living. And price wise, they fall between HMOs and PPOs.

The differences between an EPO and the other two organization plans are small, but important. While certain HMO and PPO plans offer reimbursement for out-of-network usage, an EPO does not allow its members to file a claim for doctor visits out its network. EPO plans are more restrictive in this respect, but are also able to negotiate lower fees by guaranteeing health care providers that it’s members will use in-network doctors. These plans are also negotiated on a fee-for-services basis, whereas HMOs are on a per-person basis.

HSA (Health Savings Account)

An HSA is a tax-advantaged account used to pay existing and future medical expenses. HSAs are used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans (HDHP), which will make some with pre-existing conditions ineligible. Also, HSAs must be funded with cash. Communicating the terms of this account to your employees is important, as a large number of HSAs are underfunded or improperly funded. The health savings accounts were signed into the law by George Bush in 2003, and have become an affordable alternative to a group health plan.

When inquiring about an HSA, there will be a few things you will want to clarify. While HSAs generally cover routine medical expenses and copays, some can provide dental and vision care as well. And since HSAs can be combined with certain compatible plans, it is important to understand how money from the account will be allocated. And finally, you will want to know about cashing out your HSA balance. The amount is taxable and could be subject to a ten percent excise tax.

HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement)

An HRA is exactly what it sounds like. The employer reimburses the employee for health care. As an employer, you will usually have the option to contribute to a reimbursement fund, or to pay fees as they are incurred. These reimbursements can be deducted from your taxes, and are tax-free for your employees, saving you both money.

Some providers empower employers by giving them more options. HRAs, unlike HSAs, don’t have to be funded with cash money, placing a book keeping entry on your balance sheet is enough. You can usually control aspects of your arrangement such as reimbursement limits, whether you or your employee pays first, and if the previous year’s funds roll over.

HRAs are becoming a more popular option because of the control it has given small businesses. Combined with a high deductible health plan (HDHP), an HRA could be the most cost-effective solution to your small business health insurance problems. It’s always best to compare these plans to PPOs, HMOs, and EPOs to know what works best.

Fee for Service (FFS) or Traditional Indemnity

A fee for service plan is the most flexible small business health insurance option. You choose your doctor, and your hospital. You can see a specialist without a referral. This flexibility, however, comes with more out-of-pocket expenses and higher insurance premiums.

The typical FFS plan has a deductible ranging anywhere from five to fifteen hundred dollars. After this amount is reached, the provider will pick up eighty percent of your medical bills, and require you to pay the remaining twenty percent. Because of the rising costs of health care, and the potential for a small number of doctor’s visits to cost thousands, these plans can become incredibly expensive.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

A flexible spending account is a savings account to be used for medical expenses, and is funded by pre-tax dollars. Using pre-tax dollars means that your employees will actually show that they have less income, and will therefore have less taxes withheld. As an employer, you set the limit on contributions to the account per year. In addition to the employee contribution, you can also credit the account, or fund it completely from your general assets.

An FSA, especially if combined with an HDHP, can significantly reduce the costs of small business health insurance.

You should be forewarned, money from FSA accounts cannot be rolled over. They are, however, available to use for two years and two and half months after the benefit year. A terminated employee won’t be able to use leftover funds, unless there is a positive remaining balance and COBRA is elected.

Small business health insurance providers have made significant improvements in their services to simplify the administration of your plan. With HRAs, FSAs, and HSAs, your employees can use debit cards for medical transactions. Be sure to research this thoroughly. You will want to be sure your debit card plan is IRS compliant, and that you can use a large number of pharmacies. You should also pick a plan that can verify eligibility on the spot. Talk with your agent about linking transit, parking fees, and prescriptions to the same card. When picking the debit card options, please be sure to clarify the details of the substantion process. This is IMPORTANT! With other plans, the provider may assign someone to manage your plan. Or you may have to hire someone. Still, you should be able to login to your account and print insurance cards, important papers etc.

The next thing you can do is thoroughly assess your needs. Being that every member of your small business plays a key role in its success, it is vital that their needs are met. And understanding these needs is crucial to finding the right plan. Find out about chronic illnesses, and additional information related to past health issues. Know what your employees think about health insurance, and get them involved in the process.

Hiring an agent or a broker

Finding and understanding small business health insurance can be a daunting task. While some choose to go it alone, others need some professional assistance. You need to understand the difference between an agent and a broker, and how you can get the most from either of them.

A broker

Brokers function independently and usually work for several different companies. Since they have a variety of resources, they can usually provide more options and a better overall view of the marketplace. Brokers will assist you by evaluating the costs and designs of plans from your local major carriers. The cost isn’t everything, you want to get the coverage that you need.

Ask the broker how he or she is getting paid for their services. They should readily divulge that information. Some brokers may charge you a flat free. Some receive a fee from an employer, while others receive a commission from the insurance provider. Any commissions could be reflected in your premiums, but not to the point that you should worry.

An agent

Agents typically provide services for one company. They have a closer relationship to the insurance company than a broker would, giving them more leverage to make alterations to your plan. In some cases they can offer a particular plan for less than a broker, and may have access to additional services like worker’s compensation. To find out what different providers have to offer, talk to more than one agent. It may be time-consuming, but it could bring you closer to the most cost-effective solution for your small business health insurance.

One of the common options presented by agents is the employee-elect option. This is an arrangement where employees pick the plan they prefer. Those who don’t need as much coverage won’t be forced to pay so much, and those who do need it can get it without increasing the financial burden of the company as a whole.

How to Save On Your Small Business Health Insurance Plan

What’s important to remember is that there really is no inexpensive solution to health care. Even if your initial premiums are reasonably low, they could rise significantly at your next renewal. So saving money on small business health insurance is about doing a combination of things simultaneously to get good rates, and to then maintain those rates.. And it will require a consistent effort from you, your employees, and your insurance provider.

First, you can save yourself money by reading the fine print. You need to know exactly what your plan does and DOESN’T cover. There are also state mandated coverages. For example, in states like Illinois, your insurance must cover mammograms. Also, understanding the ins and outs of your plan will give you and your employees a better idea of how to deal with your insurance.

Next, you should shave unnecessary benefits. After reading all about your plan, you will find coverage for things you may not need. Eliminating these benefits can significantly drop monthly small business health insurance premiums. For example, eliminating coverage for brand name medications can reduce costs by more than 25 percent.

Wellness program have worked wonders for small businesses. A wellness program is any program designed to promote healthy living within the organization. Weight loss competitions benefit every participant. Add a financial incentive for further motivation. Stock the work fridge with water, and leave literature about healthy living lying around. Search the internet for calorie counting charts. Raising awareness entice workers to make positive changes. Active, exercising, diet-conscious employees have stronger immune systems, more vitality, and more productive workplaces. They also don’t deal with as many health issues. Fewer doctor visits and hospitilizations will help maintain lower annual premiums, because it will prove to your insurance provider that your business is a low financial risk.

Increasing your co-pay and deductible can go a long way towards cutting costs. For instance, raising co-pays by just ten dollars has saved companies as much as thirteen percent on their premiums. A higher deductible will significantly reduce your monthly premium. To lessen the financial burden of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), combine them with an HSA. Combinations like these have saved both business owners and employees bundles of cash.

Check into getting a nurse hotline. A nurse hotline is a toll free, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week service. Employees can get medical advice from qualified, registered nurses. This method has deterred a large number of people from emergency visits, and it can also be used for preventative care as well. Insurers like Nationwide have them, or you may have to purchase from a third-party provider.

Increase the size of your group to reduce your monthly small business health insurance premiums. In a survey by America’s Health Insurance Plans, small businesses who employed ten people or less paid forty three more dollars on average than businesses with twenty six to fifty employees. Check around with other businesses owners, or fellow members of business organizations. Some states also have small business groups and pools for this purpose. Check with your state Chamber of Commerce and Department of Insurance.

Beware of heavily discounted plans. First, there are numerous scammers trying to get your money. They promise low rates, and usually cover little to nothing at all. The internet is notorious for swindlers trying to hustle you out of a buck. If you are going with a company you aren’t familiar with, please do your research. On another note, even reputable companies present problems. In an attempt to gain market share, Blue Cross offered small businesses discounted rates in 2008. For 2009, some of these same businesses were set to see increases of as much as 47% in their premiums. As the costs of medical care increases, the costs are shifted from the insurer to the insured, and discount plans become overpriced plans quickly.

Shop around. As mentioned before, talking to different agents will expose you to the best that insurance providers have to offer. Ask other small business owners about their providers. You can use trusted online resources like Netquote and Ehealthinsurance to shop around instantly. These services also let you compare plans side by side, and allow you to purchase your plan online. Even after you get your initial plan, it’s good to annually reevaluate your coverage. This will keep you on the up-and-up about what the market is offering. Keeping costs down is an ongoing effort, especially with rates and plans changing all the time from company to company.

Share some of the costs with your employees. Raising employee contributions isn’t a popular option, but it may be one of the only ways to absorb costs and maintain small business health insurance coverage. Communicate with your employees about how to keep costs down, and remind them that their increase is your increase as well.

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Health Insurance Help to Lower Your Premium

Illness for non-work related injuries can be financially devastating. Insurance keeps you protected against disastrous health care expenses and lost wages. There are enormous health insurance plans available day-to-day, the insurance cost and its benefits vary from one plans to another. Before enrolling for a policy, an individual should consult with the insurance agencies, read the policy to get the complete information about the benefits and costs and also the way the plan works.

Today, there are many more kinds of health insurance to choose from than were available just a few years ago. Traditional differences between and among plans do not longer any more. Also, there is been an increased emphasis on the role of consumers in managing their own health care and health care finances. There is a focus on providing information on the cost of care and health care quality-at the level of the physician, physician group, and hospital-to help consumers and employers choose among the many options available to them. The things have changed a lot, when most people in the United States had health insurance has indemnity insurance (also called as fee-for-service or traditional insurance). This type of insurance coverage assumed that the medical provider i.e. doctor or physicians will be paid a fee for each service provided to the patient.

When we talk about health insurance, we usually mean the kind of insurance that pays medical bills, hospital bills, and typically, prescription drug costs. Nowadays, the insurance also covers Medicare and Mediaid that provides health insurance coverage for certain people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and also an individual and families with low income. Today, the online information helps an individual to compare two best insurance policies and choose best among it. The insurance help an individual for financial planning and accordingly choose the best suitable for the family. The policy helps to avoid the burden of expensive medical bills and ensure the penny paid in health plan is paid for your care. It protects you and your family financially in the event of an unexpected serious illness or injury that could be very expensive.

In spite of available health insurance help online, unfortunately many Americans are still uninsured or underinsured. Some may be eligible for private or government but may have difficulty in finding the maze of complex rules and insurance jargons. Many more may not even have chosen the plans due to non-affordability coverage or may not be eligible for any. To help you choose right plan, we give you an overview of programs and strategies for seeking free or reduced-cost health care and managing medical debts.

Why does an individual require health insurance?

As the science and medical care advances, the ways of treatment are also increasing simultaneously. The main purpose of health insurance is to help in paying for care. It protects you and your family members in an unexpected serious illness and injury that may be high in cost. Additionally, you are more likely to get regular and routine checkups, if you have an insurance policy. Every individual requires insurance policy because you cannot predict your illness, injury and your high paying medical bills. One must seriously consider the need for health insurance for own and family. We also know that there is interlinking between having health insurance and getting protective health care. The research states that people having health insurance are more likely to have a regular doctor and get care when it is needed.

How should one get health insurance?

Most of the people get health insurance through their employers or company which they belong to. This is formerly known as group insurance. Some individuals don’t have access to group insurance. In this case, one may choose to purchase their own individual health insurance directly from public or privately owned insurance company. Most of the Americans in North America get health insurance through government programs that operate at National, State & Local Levels. Insurance- whether provided by your employer or purchased by you – can be both expensive and complex. To understand better option, you must take health insurance help from the experts and advisors.

Group Insurance:
Group Insurance is basically offered by the employers or else by an organization of which you are a member of union, professional association wherein you may get group coverage. The employee has to choose between several plans been offered by an employer’s including both indemnity insurance and managed care. Some employer may only offer one single plan. Some group plans may also include dental care with the health and medical benefits. Hence, it is a very important decision to be taken by and employee before choosing any insurance benefits offered by employer or an organization. It is also essential to compare plans to find the one that offers the benefits as per your need. Once you choose an insurance plan, you usually cannot switch over to another plan until next open season, usually set once a year.

In group health insurance, employer usually pays portion or all of the premiums. This means your costs for health insurance premiums will be lower than they would be if you paid the entire premium alone.

If you are a member of group insurance offered by an organization, you are benefited from being a member of a large group. You will have to pay lesser premium than an individual would be paying. However, the organization often does not pay a share of premium, meaning you are responsible to pay complete premium by yourself.

Individual Insurance:
In an individual Insurance, you get the coverage directly from the Insurance Company. You don’t have any access to the group insurance offered by an employer or an organization. When you buy you own insurance, you have to pay entire premium rather than sharing with an employer according to Group Insurance. In individual insurance, you do not share any cost of premium with your employer. You should analyze and choose an individual insurance plan that fits your needs at a price that you are willing to pay; you should also consult a tax advisor to find out whether you are eligible for any tax deduction as per the insurance plan.

Insurance variably differs from one company to another within an insurance industry, from one plan to another and one product to another. Hence, choosing right company, right product, right plan are the important criteria before choosing any plans.

Which type of health insurance is right for you?

Whether you choose group insurance or an individual insurance plan, you must carefully compare coverage and costs. You should compare the following important aspects like coverage and benefits, premiums, exclusions and limitations, access to hospitals, doctors, and other providers etc…

One must consider what kinds of services are covered by the plan? How are benefits being availed of health insurance plan; do you have to submit a claim? When do you need pre-approval to ensure coverage for care? What steps do you need to get the care of you and your family members need? You must ensure how does your insurance plan works. Don’t wait until you need emergency care to ask questions.

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What to Do If You Were Turned Down For Health Insurance

f you’ve been living without health insurance, you’re not alone. 15.9 percent of all Americans are uninsured as reported by the UHF (United Health Foundation). Sadly, sometimes even when people are trying to be financially and socially responsible they’ll find that they’re unable to qualify for a health insurance policy.

According to survey by U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 60 percent of the population gets health insurance in the form of group policies through their employer. There are other people who get covered by government-sponsored health care, such as children, the elderly, and those with low incomes. Until recently, however, those outside of these groups were largely at the mercy of the policies of for-profit insurance companies when it came to whether they could get coverage.

If initially turned down, ask again or apply with another insurance provider

If you find that you’re in this group that has difficulty getting coverage, the first thing you should do is to try to find out what happened. In some cases, you may be rejected due to an error on the part of the company. If the reasons for your rejection were minor, you may also still be able to get individual insurance through another company. However, if you have a major pre-existing condition such as Cancer or Diabetes, it’s unlikely that any insurance company will consider you a good risk and you’ll have to seek out other options.

State high risk health insurance pools as an option

It is for this reason that a national high-risk insurance pool will be created within 90 days following the passage of the March 2010 Health Care Reform Act for people with existing medical conditions. The pool is backed by $5 billion in federal subsidies, and will offer subsidized premiums to people who have been uninsured for at least six months and have medical problems that have resulted in their being rejected from other insurance options. In some cases these risk pools will be run through the state governments. Either way, the law says that these pools will remain available until the new health care reforms have fully taken effect in 2014.

Prior to this legislation, high risk pools were already available in 34 states and covered 183,000 citizens. From the perspective of someone who wants a policy, the important thing to note is that the quality of coverage offered can vary widely depending on the attitude and policies of the state offering them. Some states are just more generous than others in programs like this, and if you believe that you’re likely to need to use your health care policy regularly, it’ll be worth your while to get a sense of the kind of coverage that your state offers. You should also remember that even though you’ll already be paying higher premiums than a typical insurance plan, you’ll still have to make sure you have enough money in reserve to cover deductibles and co-payments or health care will be as unattainable to you as ever.

In extreme cases, if you find your state’s high risk pool to be a completely unacceptable option, you still have choices but none of them are easy. If you’ve been working at running your own business or at a small business, you may be able to get into a group plan if you can find employment at a large company. In an extreme case, if you know that another state offers a high risk pool option that would work for you, and you have the means to do it (such as family in that area), you could even consider relocating.

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The Pros and Cons of Group Health Insurance

The health insurance marketplace is certainly challenging, but count your lucky stars that at least you have choices. To that end, this article is going to explore the pros and cons of group health insurance.

Group Health Insurance Pros

Group health premiums are subsidized by the employer. Generally, an employer must contribute at least 50% of the “employee only” premium. As such, if you are the employee, you can likely get a richer health plan for less premium than you would pay in the individual health marketplace. However, the cost to add your dependents to the employer’s plan, may be cost prohibitive. In this case, and assuming that your dependents can qualify, then you may want to put them on an individual health plan.
Group health premiums for large families are the same as for small families; whereas in the individual market, you pay a separate premium for every family member. So, if you have a large family, you may be able to get a better deal by adding them to your employer’s plan. As with any insurance change though, don’t make any changes without consulting with an experienced insurance advisor in your state.
Group health insurance in most states is guaranteed issue – meaning that you can’t be turned down because of pre-existing health conditions. This is a real blessing if you or a family member has a medical condition that prevents you from qualifying for a individual plan. But, this is a double-edged sword. While being guaranteed issue is a huge benefit for those with pre-existing medical conditions, it does come at a price. This one feature alone accounts for most of the disparity between group and individual insurance premiums. Yes, that is right – in most states, individual health premiums are almost always less expensive than group health premiums.
Most group plans cover maternity. So, if you are planning on having more children, you should definitely consider hopping on to a group plan. While you can add a “maternity rider” to individual plans, these riders tend to be expensive, restrictive, and otherwise provide less value than the coverage you can get in a group health plan. That being said, if you are considering having more children, we recommend that you contact a health insurance advisor in your state for advice about what is best for your family. The right answer is different for each unique family.
Economies of scale can benefit employees of large employers. It is true that the larger the group, the larger the risk pool is in which to share the risk which CAN result in lower premiums than are available in the individual health market. However, the guaranteed issue “issue” CAN wreak havoc on this type of plan. For example, a large employer with good benefits tends to retain employees for long periods of time. Eventually, the average age of the group starts to creep up and so do premiums. In addition, people with large medical needs (expensive medical conditions) tend to be attracted to large plans because they are guaranteed issue with good coverage. And so, over time, not only is the group’s average age increasing, but the group is also attracting employees with large expected health costs. This is the dilemma that we see with large health plans like the U.S. auto-makers and even government plans. Eventually, those with lots of medical needs begin to outnumber those with little or no needs and so premiums are driven higher and higher.

Group Health Insurance Cons

Group health insurance can be more expensive than individual health insurance. ln fact, if you don’t factor in the employer’s contribution towards premiums, then individual plans are almost always more affordable than group plans. However, as we discussed earlier, not every one can qualify for an individual plan.
What happens if your employment is terminated (by you or your employer)? Yes, you will likely have some benefit continuation rights (through COBRA or state continuation programs), but these benefits can be very expensive and the term limited. So, eventually, you either have to secure another job with benefits, an individual health plan (assuming you are insurable), or possibly join a government health insurance program for the uninsured (if you are not insurable). Let me emphasize, that you should NEVER be without some form of major medical health insurance. Being without this insurance puts you and your family in serious financial jeopardy. In fact, a recent Harvard University study found that 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses.¹ To the same point, every 30 seconds in the United States, someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem. Don’t let this happen to you.
Group health insurance premiums are rising faster than individual health insurance premiums. Why? Because most group plans are guaranteed issue and since they accept “all comers”, they tend to attract those with high medical costs. On the other hand, most individual health insurance plans are medically underwritten. This means that the insurance company can say “no thanks” to any application that it deems to not be in its interest. Put yourself in their shoes – would sign a contract to provide $30,000 in annual benefits to someone that was only going to pay $3,000 in premiums (for a net loss of $27,000) if you didn’t have to? Hmm…let me me think about that one. The answer is a resounding “NO!”. Because of this underwriting process for individual health insurance, insurance companies can control their risk and more effectively manage their profitability, resulting in more stable prices.

As you can see, there is no clear cut answer as to which type of insurance is the best. The answer depends on a number of factors and is different for every unique situation. The best advice I can give you as you consider your health insurance options — get good advice from an experienced health insurance advisor.

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Dos and Don’ts When Completing Individual Health Insurance Application

If you do not have access to a group employer plan then the other option you have is to apply for individual health insurance plan. Individual health insurance application require more information from you then group health insurance plans that you might have had through job. The reason for that is that individual, and that applies to family health plans, are medically underwritten. That means that a person called medical underwriter will go over your medical application and decide if you are a good risk for the insurance company. The main reason for medical underwriting is to keep over all cost for every one low. The more insurance company has to pay out in claims the more they have to charge every one for health insurance to keep the average cost down.

If you have already had a chance to take a look at individual application then you probably know that it can be long. How much of the application you have to fill out depends on your previous medical history. If you are in perfect health then there is not much that you can write on your application other then some basic information. If you are some one who has been to the doctors for lab work, test or takes prescription medication then you would have to include that on your application. Most individual application require you to provide information of your doctor or the last doctor you have been to. If you are not sure of the name of the doctor you can always include the hospital name, clinic name or doctors practice name. When it comes for the dates of your last doctor office visit or any other dates. If you do not remember exact dates, just put down your best estimate.

The most important thing to keep in mind when filling out individual or family application, especially if you do have some medical issues, is to understand this. Until there is a permanent change to health care system and health insurance is not medically underwritten. Insurance company will consider every condition that you have and every medication that you take. The reason for that is that in most states in the US health insurance companies require to cover everything once you are approved. That means that all of your medical conditions and prescription drugs have to be cover by law once you have been approved for coverage. That is if you are approved. I hate to use this analogy because we a talking about human lives, but the simple way to explain health insurance is to compare it to car insurance. For example lets say you get in the minor car accident and you do not have car insurance. Your car is still drivable and it looks like you will need a new bumper and some paint. The next day you go out and purchase car insurance to cover your accident. Well we know it does not work like that. If you could just go out and get car insurance only after you had an accident then no one would pay for car insurance. Why pay if you can just get it after you had an accident. No one would pay for car insurance and car insurance companies would not exist. Then you would be fully responsible for all the damages out of your own pocket. I know I would rather pay that $100 a month just in case something does happen.

Most people do not recognize that health insurance works in the same way. Health insurance companies are not going to approve some one who requires immediate medical assistance. That includes pending follow up visits to the doctor, recent surgery (after a surgery a lot of complications can arise), prescription drugs and anything that is known upfront that could potentially be covered expense. Insurance companies use a “actuarial tables” to underwrite individual applications. If based on what you have put down on the application could potentially cost insurance company money, chances are your application will not be approved.

If health insurance companies automatically approved all the application then it would be the same scenario as with car insurance example, that no one would pay for health insurance. I know I would not, why pay for insurance if I can get it when I get sick. If no one would pay for insurance then there would no insurance companies to cover us for unforeseen large medical expenses. I am certainly not prepared to pay $400,000 or higher for medical emergency.

Getting approved for health insurance could take some preparation. If you are currently taking prescription drugs, find out how to can slowly get off them. I am not a doctor and certainly would never tell anyone to not take drugs that were subscribed by their doctor. I think sometimes great health starts with us, with small daily choice we make. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. When completing application sometimes being too honest can cost you also. That does not mean lying. Going to chiropractor and writing on the application that you have had back pains and you will need to see a specialist. On top of that is that you have not has any health insurance previous is just way to suspicious. It looks like you are trying to get health insurance to get medical care for something that you do not want to pay yourself. Do not make it worse then it is and always phrase everything in the positive. Instead of you writing that you are having back pain, taking Advil and going to chiropractor. Phrase it that you went to chiropractor for maintenance just to realigning your back. I see a lot of people get declined for coverage even though they are in perfect health just because how and what they wrote on the application.

Real people will be looking at your application if you are making it worse then it is or you are volunteering too much information then it is only your fault if you get declined. Your answers should be, everything is fine, just a check up, results were normal. Also before you know that you might be looking for health insurance do not go see your doctor until you do have coverage. If you go to the doctor and they find something “wrong” with you then bye, bye health insurance. Now you are stuck. When at the doctors office, again, be careful what you tell your doctor because it will end up in your medical records. When self diagnosing your self do not volunteer that information to your doctor, it is your doctors job to find if there is an issue. If you have been declined for health insurance there are options available to you so is having or not having health insurance. Having any health insurance plan is infinitely better then not having anything at all. It is a know fact that you will get a better treatment if the hospital knows that you have some way to pay for your medical care and that they are not just working for free taking care of you. The one and the most important thing that you can do is to take care of your health. Eat your broccoli.

Find out your what kind of Kaiser health insurance [http://www.healthcoveragequotes.com/] plans available to you and your family. For guaranteed issue not medical underwritten health plans consider Kaiser Permanente group health insurance [http://www.healthcoveragequotes.com/group-health-insurance-plans] plans for your your employees or if you are self employed. All you need is at least two people to start your own group plan.

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California Health Insurance – Independent Health Life Agent Verses Insurance Company In House Agent

You have just completed an online form requesting a free health insurance quote and moments later you are being inundated with phone calls from insurance agents hoping to get your business. Try not to become overwhelmed or annoyed by these “pesky sales people” because they are really not telemarketers. Most of them are well-trained state licensed professionals who can really help you make a good decision regarding which health plan is best and most affordable for your individual or group coverage needs.

You may be under the misconception that if you buy your health plan directly from the insurance company, and cut out the “middle person”, you will save money. This is absolutely not the case. In fact, insurance companies rely on agents for most of their business and that’s why they pay them commissions for bringing in customers. It does not cost a consumer one penny more to use a licensed California health insurance agent to obtain their insurance coverage.

There are many differences between California health insurance and other states including how it is applied for.

For example, while Blue Cross and Blue Shield are one company in other states, here in California, each is separate and applied to individually as Anthem Blue Cross of California and Blue Shield of California.

California health insurance law AB 1672 is an improvement over the federal HIPAA law that covers all states in that it includes the following with regard to California group coverage:

1. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions may change over to a new group health plan without an exclusionary period.

2. It allows small businesses and professional organizations to have access to health plans providing they have between 2 and 50 full time employees.

3. It keeps insurance rates from climbing after a claim is filed.

4. Employees who have health problems may change jobs or health plans without being rated higher for having pre-existing conditions.

That said, the very best health insurance agent for your individual and business needs is an “Independent Agent.” Why? Because they represent multiple insurance carriers, not just one. An independent agent can help you select the most appropriate cost-effective plan offering the most benefits for your dollar as available from the major carriers, rather than feeding you just one company’s line of health plans which may not suit your particular needs. Many people are too complacent and settle for what their current insurance company has to offer. They could use a good independent agent to sort through the many plans available from multiple insurance carriers to find and provide the best choice of options.

Another misunderstanding you may have is that insurance agents set the premium rates for the health insurance plans they sell. Thinking if you shop around you may get a better price for the same plan. Premium rates are based on your age, zip code or county in which you reside and are controlled completely by the insurance companies. Every agent uses the exact same rate guides set by the insurance companies. The condition of your health may affect your premium, which may be rated up after the insurance company’s underwriting department has reviewed your medical records. Again, the insurance company, not the agent, determines that outcome.

Now, let’s talk about the benefits of having a good insurance agent representing you. Most consumers neither know nor understand the benefits of a health plan being offered and need the expertise of an agent to explain the benefits to them in full. For example, do you know what the difference is between an “out-of-pocket maximum” and an “annual deductible?”

An out of pocket maximum is the most you will have to pay in a given year for deductible and coinsurance for covered benefits before your insurance starts to pay 100% of most expenses until the year ends.

An annual deductible is usually the amount you pay each year before your health plan starts paying anything for covered services. Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. Certain services such as prescription drugs carry separate deductibles. Plans may vary and sometimes benefits will kick in before you have to meet the deductible.

A knowledgeable health insurance agent can be a guide through the maze and help you choose the right plan to meet your needs and budget while obtaining the most benefits for your dollars spent. An agent will also make clear how the benefits for a generic prescription may differ from the benefits for a brand prescription on a particular plan.

After you have a health plan in place, a good, caring agent will remind you to pay your premium on time so the insurance company doesn’t cancel you. Your agent can also be an enormous resource for assistance if you run into a problem with a health insurance claim. Instead of waiting on hold at the insurance company’s 800 number for thirty to forty- five minutes, call your agent and explain your problem and if you have chosen the right agent, you will get help and may save yourself lots of time and frustration, maybe even some money by having an expert in your corner where your best interests come first.

So next time you or someone you know, fills out one of those on-line forms for a health insurance quote and you get several phone calls from health insurance agents wanting your business, be grateful that a professional wants to help you for free to choose the right plan and you’ll have an important friend for life.

My name is Diane Le Montre, License # 0D18343, your California Health Insurance Specialist with more than 25 years experience. I am an Authorized Independent Agent for the major California health insurance companies including Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Health Net, Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser.

Let me guide you through the maze of obtaining proper health insurance coverage for you, your family or business, with an individual or group plan based upon your specific needs. I will find the best coverage for your insurance dollar by analyzing the various plans of the major insurance companies I represent.

My experience of having worked for insurance companies as a health insurance claims auditor and being an independent health insurance agent, gives me the advantage of knowing the health insurance business on both ends, from coverage to claims.

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Buying Individual Health Insurance: 3 Essential Tips From a Health Insurance Specialist

When you’re buying individual health insurance, you’ll probably get overwhelmed by the prices and options of health plans online. Health insurance is now one of the more expensive items in the budgets of many people, but it can also be one of the best decisions you make if you have some know-how selecting the right health plan for you and your family. Here I will give you the 3 Essential Tips that I advise my clients to use when purchasing individual health coverage.

Tip 1: Do not take health insurance advice from someone that is totally unqualified to give you this advice!!

I cannot stress this enough. It amazes me how many sensible people take advice about what health insurance to choose from people who are totally unqualified to give you this critical advice. For example, when I see health insurance messes, (which I see virtually every day) and I ask where they got their health plan information, I inevitably hear things like: “My brother-in- law told me to choose this health plan, he used to work at the hospital.” or “I read an article that says this is the best plan available.” And so on. Everyone’s got an opinion about what health plan you should choose. Just because they are your relative, or involved in some area of health care totally unrelated to insurance, does not mean they know the answers to your individual needs and questions! Work with an insurance specialist BEFORE the problems come up! You have no idea how many clients I have worked with come to me after they chose a health plan online and then have an insurance coverage issue and expect me to fix it, I want to tell them: you should have come to me for help before! Most insurance specialists get paid through insurance carriers, so their services are free to you. USE THEM!!

Tip 2: Determine your actual needs.

The three things to keep in mind when determining your needs are: budget, patterns of doctor and hospital visits, and prescription drug usage. Ask yourself these questions: How frequently do you visit your doctor? Do you go for checkups only or do you go for sick visits? How many times have you been in the hospital in the past 2 years? Do you take regular prescriptions? What are they? Generic or Brands? This is another area where most of my clients neglect. It is not possible to have maximum coverage in all of these areas in any affordable way, maximum coverage for the doctor and hospital plus prescriptions leaves a dent in the budget. However, most health insurance plans offer more than one version of the same plan. For example, say you have “health plan A” that offers maximum coverage for the doctor, maximum coverage for the hospital, and maximum coverage for your prescription drugs. But “health plan A” costs the same as your mortgage. The good news is “Health Plan A” most likely also has customizable options, meaning if after analyzing your needs, you discover that you rarely visit a hospital, you could change “health plan A’ s” hospital coverage to moderate or even minimal which will bring down the premium a great deal. If these options are confusing to you, again, a health insurance specialist will be able to help you. They are already aware of “health plan A’ s” customizable features and can match your needs to the appropriate version of “health plan A”. A health insurance specialist also has access to versions of health plans that aren’t available as options to the average consumer buying health insurance online.

Tip 3: Resist the urge to over-insure!!

After you’ve analyzed your needs, resist the urge to over-insure! One of the most common health insurance messes I see is over-insurance. People think that if they have maximum coverage for doctors, hospitals, and prescriptions, they have “good” insurance. The truth is, most people who will be approved for individual health insurance won’t need all this coverage. Two things I advise my clients to be aware of: Health Care Reform and Stop-Loss. First, Health Care Reform allows for preventive care services to be covered at 100%. For example, if you only get checkups, why enroll in the plan with 100% doctor’s visit coverage? Enroll in the plan with a lower premium and pay a $10 copay for your sick visit. The difference in premium with this small detail is $100’s of dollars! Furthermore, some of these “maximum coverage” health insurance plans exclude things like pregnancy. The last thing you want to do is pay a small fortune for “good” health insurance only to discover it won’t cover something you need it for! Second, most health insurance plans have a stop-loss built into them which basically states that when your out-of-pocket costs reach a certain amount, the plan will cover you at 100% for all services. And you don’t need the “maximum coverage” plan for this benefit. Your health insurance specialist can even customize this stop-loss amount!

Then, select your plan after following My 3 Essential Tips:

1. Do not take health insurance advice from someone unqualified to offer this advice. Seek a health insurance specialist, they have studied and are licensed to offer this advice and they’re free to you. USE THEM!!

2. Consider your actual needs. Ask yourself questions so you know what your specific health plan needs are, that way you can make sure you select a plan that meets them. After all, if you don’t know what you actually need in a plan, how will you know if you’ve come across the right fit?

3. Resist the urge to over-insure! Health Care Reform has changed how many plans work and you may be able to receive ample or superlative coverage without over-insuring. And most importantly, without the hefty premiums!

There you have it, online health insurance shoppers! I hope this was helpful!

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Health Savings Accounts – An American Innovation in Health Insurance

INTRODUCTON – The term “health insurance” is commonly used in the United States to describe any program that helps pay for medical expenses, whether through privately purchased insurance, social insurance or a non-insurance social welfare program funded by the government. Synonyms for this usage include “health coverage,” “health care coverage” and “health benefits” and “medical insurance.” In a more technical sense, the term is used to describe any form of insurance that provides protection against injury or illness.

In America, the health insurance industry has changed rapidly during the last few decades. In the 1970’s most people who had health insurance had indemnity insurance. Indemnity insurance is often called fee-forservice. It is the traditional health insurance in which the medical provider (usually a doctor or hospital) is paid a fee for each service provided to the patient covered under the policy. An important category associated with the indemnity plans is that of consumer driven health care (CDHC). Consumer-directed health plans allow individuals and families to have greater control over their health care, including when and how they access care, what types of care they receive and how much they spend on health care services.

These plans are however associated with higher deductibles that the insured have to pay from their pocket before they can claim insurance money. Consumer driven health care plans include Health Reimbursement Plans (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), high deductible health plans (HDHps), Archer Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Of these, the Health Savings Accounts are the most recent and they have witnessed rapid growth during the last decade.

WHAT IS A HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged medical savings account available to taxpayers in the United States. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. These may be used to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without federal tax liability.

Another feature is that the funds contributed to Health Savings Account roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. These can be withdrawn by the employees at the time of retirement without any tax liabilities. Withdrawals for qualified expenses and interest earned are also not subject to federal income taxes. According to the U.S. Treasury Office, ‘A Health Savings Account is an alternative to traditional health insurance; it is a savings product that offers a different way for consumers to pay for their health care.

HSA’s enable you to pay for current health expenses and save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.’ Thus the Health Savings Account is an effort to increase the efficiency of the American health care system and to encourage people to be more responsible and prudent towards their health care needs. It falls in the category of consumer driven health care plans.

Origin of Health Savings Account

The Health Savings Account was established under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress in June 2003, by the Senate in July 2003 and signed by President Bush on December 8, 2003.

Eligibility –

The following individuals are eligible to open a Health Savings Account –

– Those who are covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).
– Those not covered by other health insurance plans.
– Those not enrolled in Medicare4.

Also there are no income limits on who may contribute to an HAS and there is no requirement of having earned income to contribute to an HAS. However HAS’s can’t be set up by those who are dependent on someone else’s tax return. Also HSA’s cannot be set up independently by children.

What is a High Deductible Health plan (HDHP)?

Enrollment in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is a necessary qualification for anyone wishing to open a Health Savings Account. In fact the HDHPs got a boost by the Medicare Modernization Act which introduced the HSAs. A High Deductible Health Plan is a health insurance plan which has a certain deductible threshold. This limit must be crossed before the insured person can claim insurance money. It does not cover first dollar medical expenses. So an individual has to himself pay the initial expenses that are called out-of-pocket costs.

In a number of HDHPs costs of immunization and preventive health care are excluded from the deductible which means that the individual is reimbursed for them. HDHPs can be taken both by individuals (self employed as well as employed) and employers. In 2008, HDHPs are being offered by insurance companies in America with deductibles ranging from a minimum of $1,100 for Self and $2,200 for Self and Family coverage. The maximum amount out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs is $5,600 for self and $11,200 for Self and Family enrollment. These deductible limits are called IRS limits as they are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In HDHPs the relation between the deductibles and the premium paid by the insured is inversely propotional i.e. higher the deductible, lower the premium and vice versa. The major purported advantages of HDHPs are that they will a) lower health care costs by causing patients to be more cost-conscious, and b) make insurance premiums more affordable for the uninsured. The logic is that when the patients are fully covered (i.e. have health plans with low deductibles), they tend to be less health conscious and also less cost conscious when going for treatment.

Opening a Health Savings Account

An individual can sign up for HSAs with banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other approved companies. However not all insurance companies offer HSAqualified health insurance plans so it is important to use an insurance company that offers this type of qualified insurance plan. The employer may also set up a plan for the employees. However, the account is always owned by the individual. Direct online enrollment in HSA-qualified health insurance is available in all states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Contributions to the Health Savings Account

Contributions to HSAs can be made by an individual who owns the account, by an employer or by any other person. When made by the employer, the contribution is not included in the income of the employee. When made by an employee, it is treated as exempted from federal tax. For 2008, the maximum amount that can be contributed (and deducted) to an HSA from all sources is:
$2,900 (self-only coverage)
$5,800 (family coverage)

These limits are set by the U.S. Congress through statutes and they are indexed annually for inflation. For individuals above 55 years of age, there is a special catch up provision that allows them to deposit additional $800 for 2008 and $900 for 2009. The actual maximum amount an individual can contribute also depends on the number of months he is covered by an HDHP (pro-rated basis) as of the first day of a month. For eg If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, then cease having HDHP coverage, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 of $5,800, or $2,900 for 2008. If you have family HDHP coverage from January 1,2008 until June 30, 2008, and have self-only HDHP coverage from July 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, you are allowed an HSA contribution of 6/12 x $5,800 plus 6/12 of $2,900, or $4,350 for 2008. If an individual opens an HDHP on the first day of a month, then he can contribute to HSA on the first day itself. However, if he/she opens an account on any other day than the first, then he can contribute to the HSA from the next month onwards. Contributions can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. Contributions to the HSA in excess of the contribution limits must be withdrawn by the individual or be subject to an excise tax. The individual must pay income tax on the excess withdrawn amount.

Contributions by the Employer

The employer can make contributions to the employee’s HAS account under a salary reduction plan known as Section 125 plan. It is also called a cafeteria plan. The contributions made under the cafeteria plan are made on a pre-tax basis i.e. they are excluded from the employee’s income. The employer must make the contribution on a comparable basis. Comparable contributions are contributions to all HSAs of an employer which are 1) the same amount or 2) the same percentage of the annual deductible. However, part time employees who work for less than 30 hours a week can be treated separately. The employer can also categorize employees into those who opt for self coverage only and those who opt for a family coverage. The employer can automatically make contributions to the HSAs on the behalf of the employee unless the employee specifically chooses not to have such contributions by the employer.

Withdrawals from the HSAs

The HSA is owned by the employee and he/she can make qualified expenses from it whenever required. He/She also decides how much to contribute to it, how much to withdraw for qualified expenses, which company will hold the account and what type of investments will be made to grow the account. Another feature is that the funds remain in the account and role over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. The HSA participants do not have to obtain advance approval from their HSA trustee or their medical insurer to withdraw funds, and the funds are not subject to income taxation if made for ‘qualified medical expenses’. Qualified medical expenses include costs for services and items covered by the health plan but subject to cost sharing such as a deductible and coinsurance, or co-payments, as well as many other expenses not covered under medical plans, such as dental, vision and chiropractic care; durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses and hearing aids; and transportation expenses related to medical care. Nonprescription, over-the-counter medications are also eligible. However, qualified medical expense must be incurred on or after the HSA was established.

Tax free distributions can be taken from the HSA for the qualified medical expenses of the person covered by the HDHP, the spouse (even if not covered) of the individual and any dependent (even if not covered) of the individual.12 The HSA account can also be used to pay previous year’s qualified expenses subject to the condition that those expenses were incurred after the HSA was set up. The individual must preserve the receipts for expenses met from the HSA as they may be needed to prove that the withdrawals from the HSA were made for qualified medical expenses and not otherwise used. Also the individual may have to produce the receipts before the insurance company to prove that the deductible limit was met. If a withdrawal is made for unqualified medical expenses, then the amount withdrawn is considered taxable (it is added to the individuals income) and is also subject to an additional 10 percent penalty. Normally the money also cannot be used for paying medical insurance premiums. However, in certain circumstances, exceptions are allowed.

These are –

1) to pay for any health plan coverage while receiving federal or state unemployment benefits.
2) COBRA continuation coverage after leaving employment with a company that offers health insurance coverage.
3) Qualified long-term care insurance.
4) Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance for: Part A (hospital and inpatient services), Part B (physician and outpatient services), Part C (Medicare HMO and PPO plans) and Part D (prescription drugs).

However, if an individual dies, becomes disabled or reaches the age of 65, then withdrawals from the Health Savings Account are considered exempted from income tax and additional 10 percent penalty irrespective of the purpose for which those withdrawals are made. There are different methods through which funds can be withdrawn from the HSAs. Some HSAs provide account holders with debit cards, some with cheques and some have options for a reimbursement process similar to medical insurance.

Growth of HSAs

Ever since the Health Savings Accounts came into being in January 2004, there has been a phenomenal growth in their numbers. From around 1 million enrollees in March 2005, the number has grown to 6.1 million enrollees in January 2008.14 This represents an increase of 1.6 million since January 2007, 2.9 million since January 2006 and 5.1 million since March 2005. This growth has been visible across all segments. However, the growth in large groups and small groups has been much higher than in the individual category. According to the projections made by the U.S. Treasury Department, the number of HSA policy holders will increase to 14 million by 2010. These 14 million policies will provide cover to 25 to 30 million U.S. citizens.

In the Individual Market, 1.5 million people were covered by HSA/HDHPs purchased as on January 2008. Based on the number of covered lives, 27 percent of newly purchased individual policies (defined as those purchased during the most recent full month or quarter) were enrolled in HSA/HDHP coverage. In the small group market, enrollment stood at 1.8 million as of January 2008. In this group 31 percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category. The large group category had the largest enrollment with 2.8 million enrollees as of January 2008. In this category, six percent of all new enrollments were in the HSA/HDHP category.

Benefits of HSAs

The proponents of HSAs envisage a number of benefits from them. First and foremost it is believed that as they have a high deductible threshold, the insured will be more health conscious. Also they will be more cost conscious. The high deductibles will encourage people to be more careful about their health and health care expenses and will make them shop for bargains and be more vigilant against excesses in the health care industry. This, it is believed, will reduce the growing cost of health care and increase the efficiency of the health care system in the United States. HSA-eligible plans typically provide enrollee decision support tools that include, to some extent, information on the cost of health care services and the quality of health care providers. Experts suggest that reliable information about the cost of particular health care services and the quality of specific health care providers would help enrollees become more actively engaged in making health care purchasing decisions. These tools may be provided by health insurance carriers to all health insurance plan enrollees, but are likely to be more important to enrollees of HSA-eligible plans who have a greater financial incentive to make informed decisions about the quality and costs of health care providers and services.

It is believed that lower premiums associated with HSAs/HDHPs will enable more people to enroll for medical insurance. This will mean that lower income groups who do not have access to medicare will be able to open HSAs. No doubt higher deductibles are associated with HSA eligible HDHPs, but it is estimated that tax savings under HSAs and lower premiums will make them less expensive than other insurance plans. The funds put in the HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There are no use it or lose it rules. This leads to a growth in savings of the account holder. The funds can be accumulated tax free for future medical expenses if the holder so desires. Also the savings in the HSA can be grown through investments.

The nature of such investments is decided by the insured. The earnings on savings in the HSA are also exempt from income tax. The holder can withdraw his savings in the HSA after turning 65 years old without paying any taxes or penalties. The account holder has complete control over his/her account. He/She is the owner of the account right from its inception. A person can withdraw money as and when required without any gatekeeper. Also the owner decides how much to put in his/her account, how much to spend and how much to save for the future. The HSAs are portable in nature. This means that if the holder changes his/her job, becomes unemployed or moves to another location, he/she can still retain the account.

Also if the account holder so desires he can transfer his Health Saving Account from one managing agency to another. Thus portability is an advantage of HSAs. Another advantage is that most HSA plans provide first-dollar coverage for preventive care. This is true of virtually all HSA plans offered by large employers and over 95% of the plans offered by small employers. It was also true of over half (59%) of the plans which were purchased by individuals.

All of the plans offering first-dollar preventive care benefits included annual physicals, immunizations, well-baby and wellchild care, mammograms and Pap tests; 90% included prostate cancer screenings and 80% included colon cancer screenings. Some analysts believe that HSAs are more beneficial for the young and healthy as they do not have to pay frequent out of pocket costs. On the other hand, they have to pay lower premiums for HDHPs which help them meet unforeseen contingencies.

Health Savings Accounts are also advantageous for the employers. The benefits of choosing a health Savings Account over a traditional health insurance plan can directly affect the bottom line of an employer’s benefit budget. For instance Health Savings Accounts are dependent on a high deductible insurance policy, which lowers the premiums of the employee’s plan. Also all contributions to the Health Savings Account are pre-tax, thus lowering the gross payroll and reducing the amount of taxes the employer must pay.

Criticism of HSAs

The opponents of Health Savings Accounts contend that they would do more harm than good to America’s health insurance system. Some consumer organizations, such as Consumers Union, and many medical organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, have rejected HSAs because, in their opinion, they benefit only healthy, younger people and make the health care system more expensive for everyone else. According to Stanford economist Victor Fuchs, “The main effect of putting more of it on the consumer is to reduce the social redistributive element of insurance.

Some others believe that HSAs remove healthy people from the insurance pool and it makes premiums rise for everyone left. HSAs encourage people to look out for themselves more and spread the risk around less. Another concern is that the money people save in HSAs will be inadequate. Some people believe that HSAs do not allow for enough savings to cover costs. Even the person who contributes the maximum and never takes any money out would not be able to cover health care costs in retirement if inflation continues in the health care industry.

Opponents of HSAs, also include distinguished figures like state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who called them a “dangerous prescription” that will destabilize the health insurance marketplace and make things even worse for the uninsured. Another criticism is that they benefit the rich more than the poor. Those who earn more will be able to get bigger tax breaks than those who earn less. Critics point out that higher deductibles along with insurance premiums will take away a large share of the earnings of the low income groups. Also lower income groups will not benefit substantially from tax breaks as they are already paying little or no taxes. On the other hand tax breaks on savings in HSAs and on further income from those HSA savings will cost billions of dollars of tax money to the exchequer.

The Treasury Department has estimated HSAs would cost the government $156 billion over a decade. Critics say that this could rise substantially. Several surveys have been conducted regarding the efficacy of the HSAs and some have found that the account holders are not particularly satisfied with the HSA scheme and many are even ignorant about the working of the HSAs. One such survey conducted in 2007 of American employees by the human resources consulting firm Towers Perrin showed satisfaction with account based health plans (ABHPs) was low. People were not happy with them in general compared with people with more traditional health care. Respondants said they were not comfortable with the risk and did not understand how it works.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, early experience with HAS eligible high-deductible health plans reveals low satisfaction, high out of- pocket costs, and cost-related access problems. Another survey conducted with the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that people enrolled in HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans were much less satisfied with many aspects of their health care than adults in more comprehensive plans People in these plans allocate substantial amounts of income to their health care, especially those who have poorer health or lower incomes. The survey also found that adults in high-deductible health plans are far more likely to delay or avoid getting needed care, or to skip medications, because of the cost. Problems are particularly pronounced among those with poorer health or lower incomes.

Political leaders have also been vocal about their criticism of the HSAs. Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement criticizing the HSAs “The President’s health care plan is not about covering the uninsured, making health insurance affordable, or even driving down the cost of health care. Its real purpose is to make it easier for businesses to dump their health insurance burden onto workers, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and boost the profits of banks and financial brokers. The health care policies concocted at the behest of special interests do nothing to help the average American. In many cases, they can make health care even more inaccessible.” In fact a report of the U.S. governments Accountability office, published on April 1, 2008 says that the rate of enrollment in the HSAs is greater for higher income individuals than for lower income ones.

A study titled “Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They an Option for Low-Income Families? By Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert which was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following key findings regarding the HSAs:

a) Premiums for HSA-qualified health plans may be lower than for traditional insurance, but these plans shift more of the financial risk to individuals and families through higher deductibles.
b) Premiums and out-of-pocket costs for HSA-qualified health plans would consume a substantial portion of a low-income family’s budget.
c) Most low-income individuals and families do not face high enough tax liability to benefit in a significant way from tax deductions associated with HSAs.
d) People with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high cost medical needs may face even greater out-of-pocket costs under HSA-qualified health plans.
e) Cost-sharing reduces the use of health care, especially primary and preventive services, and low-income individuals and those who are sicker are particularly sensitive to cost-sharing increases.
f) Health savings accounts and high deductible plans are unlikely to substantially increase health insurance coverage among the uninsured.

Choosing a Health Plan

Despite the advantages offered by the HSA, it may not be suitable for everyone. While choosing an insurance plan, an individual must consider the following factors:

1. The premiums to be paid.
2. Coverage/benefits available under the scheme.
3. Various exclusions and limitations.
4. Portability.
5. Out-of-pocket costs like coinsurance, co-pays, and deductibles.
6. Access to doctors, hospitals, and other providers.
7. How much and sometimes how one pays for care.
8. Any existing health issue or physical disability.
9. Type of tax savings available.

The plan you choose should according to your requirements and financial ability.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1 Questions and Answers about Health Insurance- A Consumer Guide’ published jointly by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
2 http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_savings_account
3 2002 AHIP Survey of Health Insurance Plans
4 “How High Is Too High? Implications of High-Deductible Health Plans” Davis, Karen; Michelle Doty and Alice Ho. The Commonwealth Fund, April 2005
5 http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/schs/pdf/hsa_tri-fold_brochure.pdf
6 HSA/HDHP CENSUS 2008 by Hannah Yoo, Center for Policy and Research, America’s Health Insurance Plans
7″HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS Early Enrollee Experiences with Accounts and Eligible Health Plans” John E. Dicken Director, Health Care.
8 Thomas Wilder and Hannah Yoo, “A Survey of Preventive Benefits in Health Savings Account (HSA)Plans, July 2007,” America’s Health Insurance Plans, November 2007
9 Gladwell, Malcolm, “The Moral Hazard Myth”, The New Yorker (29-08-2005)
10 2008 Benchmark Survey HAS Bank
11. Employer Health Benefits 2007 Annual Survey, Kaiser Family Foundation
12. Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans: Are They An Option for Low-Income Families?Catherine Hoffman and Jennifer Tolbert for Kaiser Family Foundation, October 2006
13. Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

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