This time of year many Americans make health insurance decisions. If your health insurance comes through your employer, you may be making plan choices in the next month or so, and if you purchase insurance individually, open enrollment is November 1 through December 15. Are you equipped to make informed choices about your health insurance?
ISU Extension and Outreach offers two free on-line workshops on health insurance topics:
- Smart Choice Basics focuses on the key things to know before you sign up for a specific health plan. It’s useful to people who get their insurance through their employer as well as to people who need to purchase insurance on their own. It also addresses questions about how to get help paying for health insurance via the HealthCare.gov Marketplace. It is being offered November 19 and December 1 (6 p.m. each day).
- Smart Use: Smart Actions for Using your Health Insurance Wisely. This workshop focuses on seven key actions for consumers to take, including keeping track of the health care they receive, reviewing their bills carefully and disputing errors, understanding deductibles and co-pays, and more. It is being offered November 2 and December 8 (6 p.m. each day).
Understanding key health insurance principles can save you money year-round. It also gives you the confidence to ask useful questions about health costs and bills, and to make informed choices about when and where you receive the health care you need.
Pre-registration for the health insurance workshops is required.
Questions? Contact Barb Wollan or Brenda Schmitt. The flier is attached below if you’d like to share it with others.
These two workshops were developed by a team of experts from across the nation led by University of Maryland Extension. They are conducted locally by trained Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists.
The other day a friend asked me about health insurance. She said “I’ve been getting all this different advice: ‘Go see Agent X – he’ll fix you up;’ or ‘Agent Y found a really good plan for me.’ I’ve seen a couple different agents and I’m confused.”
Until she talked with me, no one had suggested checking on www.healthcare.gov .
I don’t know what her income is, but I think she may be eligible for premium tax credits to help pay monthly premiums for health insurance. But before our conversation, she didn’t realize that help was available. The key point I explained to her was this: Premium Tax Credits are only available if you buy your health insurance in the official “Marketplace” through www.healthcare.gov
Some insurance agents will help customers enroll in plans offered in the Marketplace. They only receive a tiny commission for helping clients, but they do it anyway, because they want to serve their customers well. If your income is below the income guidelines for premium tax credits (over $90,000 for a family of four), make sure your insurance agent shows you the plans available in the Marketplace and explains how the premium tax credits work.
To find a health care navigator or certified application counselor near you, go to www.getcoveredamerica.org/locator
Health Insurance is important. Even if a cheaper plan is available somewhere else, you may come out ahead by purchasing a plan in the Marketplace, where Premium Tax Credits can help cover the cost of a plan that meets high quality standards.
Last week it was announced that people who signed up for health insurance through the official Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov) will automatically be re-enrolled in the same plan for next year, unless they log in to make a change.
I see that as good news, because it guarantees that no one will just forget to sign up again next year. Hopefully it will also reduce the “traffic” on the healthcare.gov website.
But is re-enrolling in the same plan the best choice for you?
That will be the key question. Paying attention now will help you be ready when next fall’s enrollment period comes around. Here are some questions to keep in mind throughout the year:
- Am I happy with the doctors and other health providers available in my plan’s network?
- How much am I using health care services? (it’s smart to keep track of visits and costs for each family member)
- Am I taking advantage of the preventive care which, under most health plans, is available with no co-payments or deductibles?
- Have I met my plan’s deductible?
- How much have I spent in co-payments or co-insurance?
- Have your health care needs changed during the year?
Knowing how much care you needed in 2014 will help you make a smart health insurance choice for 2015. When choosing between platinum, gold, silver, and bronze plans, you need to balance the costs and benefits: higher premiums in exchange for lower deductibles and co-pays? Or will you be better off paying lower premiums, even if the deductible and other out-of-pocket costs are higher?
To help you understand how to use your health insurance, ten helpful new videos, each lasting just one or two minutes, are available at http://marketplace.cms.gov/help-us/c2c.html . They’re available in both English and Spanish!
I had a call a few days ago from a woman who was stuggling to find the “Iowa Health Insurance Exchange” on line. She had put that phrase into her search engine and come up with lots of options – some that were “dot-com” sites, others that were “dot-org” sites. Among the options were a few “dot-gov” sites.
Listening to the news, it’s easy for our minds to become cluttered with phrases. And we’ve become accustomed to being able to “google” anything to find it.
If you, or someone you know, is looking for the official health insurance marketplace in your state, the place to begin your search is at www.healthcare.gov Key point: use “dot-gov.”
Why does it matter? Starting somewhere else could lead to misdirection and possible problems. Other sites may have a sales motive or a political agenda. A worst-case scenario might be identity theft; another risk is that a person might enroll in a health plan through another site and miss out on the cost reductions that are only available in the official health insurance marketplace.
Help your friends avoid misdirection! Remind them that, even though it’s not yet working as well as we would like, the correct website to find health coverage with the new Premium Tax Credits and Cost-Sharing Reductions is www.healthcare.gov