Shop­ping around for health in­sur­ance can bring big sav­ings

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - FEATURES -

Health-care in­fla­tion has out­paced the over­all rate of price in­creases over the past 20 years. While costs have slowed, they are still pro­jected to rise by 4.2 per­cent over the coming 20 years, ac­cord­ing to re­search from HealthView Ser­vices. Please feel free to sigh, com­plain or yell right now.

Now let’s move on to what you can ac­tu­ally con­trol in this process: the choices you make for health in­sur­ance cov­er­age.

Em­ployer cov­er­age: A Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion sur­vey found that av­er­age an­nual pre­mi­ums for fam­ily health cov­er­age reached $19,616 this year ($6,896 for sin­gle cov­er­age), up 5 per­cent from last year. Of that to­tal, work­ers on av­er­age are pay­ing $5,547 ($1,186 for sin­gle) to­ward the cost of their cov­er­age, a whop­ping 21 per­cent jump since 2013.

The dreaded de­ductible can add sig­nif­i­cant cost to your health care. The av­er­age de­ductible among all cov­ered work­ers is $1,350. Over the past five years, the av­er­age an­nual de­ductible among all cov­ered work­ers has in­creased 53 per­cent.

So what can you do? Shop around. Yes, it’s te­dious, but it could save money. Start by re­view­ing your cur­rent plan, what you spent this past year, and then try to project what your health care costs will be in the year ahead. Then com­pare plans and de­ter­mine what they cover, how much they cost, in­clud­ing co-pays and de­ductibles and whether your doc­tors are in the net­work.

If your em­ployer of­fers a High De­ductible Health Plan paired with a tax ad­van­taged Health Sav­ings Ac­count, there can be great sav­ings. Ad­di­tion­ally, Flex­i­ble Spend­ing Ac­counts al­low you to set aside money in pre-tax dol­lars to cover out-of-pocket ex­penses.

Medi­care: In Jan­uary, So­cial Se­cu­rity re­cip­i­ents will get a 2.8 per­cent cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment, the largest in eight years. But the COLA cal­cu­la­tion does a rel­a­tively poor job of tak­ing into ac­count the costs that mat­ter most to se­niors, be­cause it re­lies on the spend­ing habits of peo­ple who are mostly work­ing age. For a healthy 66-year-old cou­ple re­tir­ing this year, health-care costs will con­sume about half of life­time So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits.

That means that se­niors should pay at­ten­tion to the all-im­por­tant Medi­care open en­roll­ment pe­riod, which ends Dec. 7th. You can switch from orig­i­nal Medi­care to Medi­care Ad­van­tage, the man­aged-care al­ter­na­tive to feefor-ser­vice cov­er­age.

If you do, make sure that your doc­tors are in the net­work and un­der­stand the de­ductible/out of pocket lim­its and the pre­scrip­tion drug choices. For the Part D med­i­ca­tion plan, check out Medi­care. gov/find­a­plan to com­pare cov­er­age op­tions. If you don’t re­quest a change, your cov­er­age will be au­to­mat­i­cally re­newed.

Af­ford­able Care Act: Af­ter all of the fight­ing, the ACA is still open for busi­ness. The 2019 open en­roll­ment pe­riod runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. If you miss the dead­line, you may be able to qual­ify for a spe­cial en­roll­ment pe­riod. Prices on av­er­age are ex­pected to edge lower for sil­ver plans, the most pop­u­lar mid-range op­tion on the ex­changes. But costs are de­pen­dent on your state of res­i­dence.

The big change to the ACA con­cerns the in­di­vid­ual man­date, which re­quired that most Amer­i­cans carry health in­sur­ance, or face a tax penalty. How­ever, the tax law passed last De­cem­ber now drops the penalty to zero. One note: This change is not retroac­tive, so you might owe the pay­ment when you file your taxes in 2019 if you did not have cov­er­age in 2018. Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News busi­ness an­a­lyst. A for­mer op­tions trader and CIO of an in­vest­ment ad­vi­sory firm, she wel­comes com­ments and ques­tions at askjill@ jil­lon­

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