How to find affordable health insurance in 2012

By Maryalene LaPonsie on January 3rd, 2012

One in five working Americans wants to spend less in 2012, according to a recent study conducted by Fidelity Investments. One way to keep more money in your pocket is by re-evaluating your health insurance coverage.

Many families get coverage through employer-sponsored plans. However, others do not have that option or simply want the added flexibility to reduce costs and customize coverage that an individual health insurance policy offers. As we head into 2012, here are some tips for finding low-cost health insurance.

Shopping for cheap health insurance

Health insurance coverage comes in many different forms. Traditional fee-for-service plans allow you see the doctor of your choice without any restrictions and tend to be the most expensive.

HMOs and PPOs may require you to use in-network health care professionals or to get a referral before seeing a specialist. In exchange for limiting your choice of physicians and facilities, these plans offer lower health insurance rates.

Another option is a high-deductible plan that offers cheaper health insurance premiums while shifting a portion of the cost of care from the insurer to the policyholder.

UnitedHealthcare's Golden Rule Insurance Company suggests the following tips for consumers seeking to reduce health insurance rates in 2012:

  1. Evaluate your health care needs: Do any of your family members have chronic health conditions? Or are you generally healthy and looking mainly for catastrophic coverage?
  2. Consider high-deductible plans: Golden Rule notes that high-deductible plans offer cheaper health insurance while providing coverage for most care, including preventive services. However, consumers should carefully consider their medical needs and the required out-of-pocket costs to determine whether a high-deductible plan offers good value for their family.
  3. Open a health savings account: If you decide a high-deductible plan is right for you, see if you can open a health savings account (HSA) as well. High-deductible plans meeting certain criteria can be connected to an HSA. These accounts offer tax advantages, including allowing consumers to pay for their out-of-pocket costs with tax-free dollars.
  4. Review network discounts: According to Golden Rule, some health insurance companies are able to negotiate discounts on health care services of up to 30 percent to 50 percent. These discounts can result in lower out-of-pocket costs for policyholders.
  5. Look for a deductible credit: Since high-deductible plans often require you to carry a deductible of several thousand dollars, policyholders may not meet the deductible each year. Golden Rule suggests looking for health insurance plans that provide deductible credits that can be carried over from one year to the next.

Consumers should carefully evaluate the total cost of any health insurance plan before signing up. Low-cost health insurance is a good deal only if it provides the coverage your family needs. Consider network provider restrictions, out-of-pocket costs and referral requirements in addition to health insurance rates when selecting a plan.

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