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Help readers navigate the health insurance market

Health care With COBRA or related subsidies and other backstops running out this year for millions of Americans, any article on shopping for health insurance is bound to be a hit with readers.

That’s especially so now that we know the limitations of health care reform; many individuals will see no effect, including price protection, for years to come.  So they’ll be navigating the marketplace alone and need your help.

Meanwhile, insurers apparently are taking the opportunity to boost prices for individual policies by double-digit percentages, as this newly released Kaiser Family Foundation survey indicates.  Here’s a Kaiser Health News story on the subject which may give you ideas for localizing.

Another timely news peg:  On July 1, federal officials will launch a new web portal – Healthcare.gov — aimed at helping people comparison shop for medical insurance policies.  As this Kaiser Health News story published in USA Today points out, however, the site won’t be “the Expedia of health insurance” any time soon.  Consumer advocates and insurance companies have widely varying views on how many financial details insurers must provide.

Those who need coverage sooner than October (when Healthcare.gov is expected to be a bit more functional) must seek help elsewhere.  Check for your state’s buyers’ guide for consumers, like this one from New Jersey , which also includes information for low-income residents, children and other groups.

HealthInsurance.org is a commercial site featuring a plethora of information, including links to state buyers’ guides, as well as educational material, quotes from multiple insurance companies and other resources.  The site claims to maintain editorial freedom and to not make money selling insurance but I wasn’t able to ascertain ownership; it’s a good place for background research to arm you with questions for local companies and officials.

EHealthInsurance.com is another commercial site offering tips for those losing COBRA coverage.

Keep in mind that while COBRA subsidies and prospective legislation to extend them get a lot of news headlines, the basic 18-month eligibility for COBRA has not changed.  So all the subsidies in the world aren’t going to help folks who are approaching that cut-off point.  With many long-term unemployed in the marketplace, what seemed like a generous amount of time to find one’s own insurance pool (back when COBRA was passed in 1985.)

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a health care reform channel offering a lot of information about how states are responding to new laws and regulations; of particular interest for this story is the information about high-risk pools.

On that NCSL page, note the menu to the right offers historical information about states and health insurance, as well as links to other resources like HealthReform.gov and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is running Healthcare.gov and other parts of health care reform.

Here’s the FamiliesUSA study from 2009 that compared the cost of COBRA health insurance premiums to unemployment benefits.

This portal from the National Association of Health Underwriters may offer some interesting industry perspective.

The Kaiser Health News site also offers a lot of niche stories – like changes to health care rules for dependents, Medicare payments to doctors, how reform affects small businesses and many more issues you can adapt to fit your marketplace.

Here’s an opinion piece from OregonLive.com in which an individual health insurance buyer vents his frustration with recent rate hikes; the level of specificity as far as payments is what makes the piece so readable.  It would’ve been even more interesting if he had outlined their history of appointments, prescriptions, out of pocket vs. covered costs, etc. – perhaps you can find a local reader or three willing to do so.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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