Group Health Insurance
Health care reform
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Individual Health Insurance
Long Term Care Insurance
Medicare related coverage
08-15-2008by Colleen King
In order to save money on insurance premiums, many people whether in an individual health plan or group health plan will select a health insurance plan with a higher deductible. They figure they are normally healthy, aren’t going to a doctor very often, so why spend a fortune on health insurance premiums? This is how I generally direct people to go. But then they go to a doctor, pay for the visit and associated costs, and wonder, ‘why the heck am I paying premiums if I’m paying for care too?’
A couple of months ago I had something come up with a client reinforced what I tell people all the time. When you have a higher deductible plan, it’s true, you are paying for a lot of your expenses. But, when you see a doctor or other type of provider that is contracted with the insurance carrier you have your health insurance with, you pay the contracted or ‘negotiated’ rate. Big deal? It sure can be.
My client had a lap band procedure done for weight loss. A couple of weeks after it was done, she received a call from the facility saying her insurance claim had been denied because her coverage had lapsed, and she owed approximately $22,000 for the procedure. Wow! Well, there had been a problem with payment and her group plan was terminated. She and I both called the carrier and got it straightened out, as the coverage was not supposed to be canceled. The facility needed to resubmit the claim, and it would be paid.
The next day I received a very nice call from a claim rep at this carrier saying that the claim had been recalculated and a check in the amount of $3804 would be sent that day. That was the ‘negotiated’ rate, down from $22,000. My client may have been able to negotiate a few thousand off herself, but one reason the insurance companies get strong rates overall is volume. Individuals can try but rarely do they have the ‘volume’ to get the better rates.
Just recently I had something similar happen. I went in for a physical and had the usual plethora of blood tests done. The lab bill alone was $484.50! But the ‘insurance discount’ was $385.25, so I ended up paying $99.25. You can’t tell me the lab isn’t making some kind of profit on this. So when you hear about all the debates in health care reform need to find a way to contain costs, keep these two examples in mind. Remember, it’s not only the insurance companies that are in this for the money–Be well!...read more
08-13-2008by Colleen King
The problem with Long Term Care insurance when speaking to prospective clients about it is the cost. That may come before or after the denial of the need for it, because none of us want to admit that we need it. At least I don’t, but I bought it anyway. To avoid ever needing it, because if you can’t eat it or wear it, I don’t want to spend money on it.
In the conversations with people about this frequently and the reasons I hear for not needing it are as follows:
It’s too expensive
My kids will take care of me
I’ll never go to a nursing home!
Okay well, here’s the deal. The expense, just like we don’t want to admit the McDonalds Cheeseburger isn’t 35 cents anymore, you can’t find safe care for $1000/month. Check out the following numbers:
In California, over the past five years, costs increased 19 percent in Los Angeles, 12 percent
in San Francisco, 21 percent in Oakland, 9 percent in San Diego, 9 percent in San Jose, and 28
percent throughout the rest of the state. This compares to a 17 percent increase nationwide.
The study, which found that nationwide the cost of long term care in nursing homes, assisted
living facilities and in the home increased for the fifth consecutive year, also found that one
year in a private nursing home in San Francisco costs $100,101. The comparable cost in
Los Angeles is $76,459, while in Oakland the cost is $92,740, in Sacramento the cost is $92,094
and in Santa Ana the cost is $86,934. The annual cost for a room in a private nursing home runs
$82,560 per year in San Diego and $89,973 in San Jose, while the cost throughout the rest of the
state averages $72,919.
By contrast, the national average for a year in a private nursing home is $76,460 - more than one
and a half times the average annual household income in the U.S. of $48,201. Most long term care
services in this country are rising at a rate faster than inflation, as the cost of providing
this type of care continues to rise.
SO, basically just because you've saved in your retirement fund, you can deplete that very quickly
with long term care needs. Looking into a plan that will cover care at any level, home, assisted
living or nursing home, and has some sort of inflation protection so the daily benefit level will
rise annually is crucial. Your kids will probably have families of their own and may have health
problems of their own by the time you need assistance. With a long term care policy, they can take
care of you if they are able, but supplement that with outside caregivers so they don't run
themselves into the ground. You need to at least look at it. Be well!...read more
08-08-2008by Colleen King
Did you know that it doesn’t really cost $10 to see a doctor? The HMO plans have gotten people into the mind set that it’s only $10 to see a doctor. When you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) you have a much more tuned in idea of cost.
In HMO plans mainly, you have a fixed office visit co-pay that covers pretty much everything. On a PPO plan, the office visit co-pay generally covers the doctor visit alone, then you pay for any additional lab or xrays. That gives you a better idea of what things cost. When you have a health plan that is qualified to be used with an HSA, you pay for everything until you hit the deductible, then you have either full or partial coverage, depending on what your out of pocket maximum is. So what’s so good about that? At least, that’s what this lady is asking herself……
Well, HSA eligible health insurance plans have decidedly lower premiums and overall, the out of pocket maximum is less. So the money you aren’t spending on insurance, you deposit into your HSA. If you have a ‘good’ year medically speaking, then the money in the HSA stays with you. I’ve carried my health insurance this way since 2004 and it’s worked out nicely.
But what you really start to get a grasp of is the cost of care. Some insurance carriers a couple of years ago started posting pricing information on their web site, what they will pay for certain procedures in certain areas. Aetna was the first as I recall. Now that it’s YOUR money, not the insurance company’s most people are more interested in what services are going to cost.
How much time did you spend researching the cost of your last TV or computer purchase before buying? How much time did you spend checking out the cost of an office visit with a couple of doctors in your area? How about the quality of the TV, computer or doctor? I probably have the answer to the doctor question, and that’s okay; this is a new mind set for us, daring to question the almighty medical world. I recently received a nice comment from a lady, Mona Lori, whose web site you need to check out–www.OutofPocket.com. She started this web site in 2007 out of the frustration of having what’s called a Consumer Driven Health Plan, but not knowing how to best use it. Here’s what she said to me in an email:
“ OutOfPocket.com was definitely worth launching. I have received so many great comments from consumers all over the U.S. about our dysfunctional health care system. We do not have a critical mass of consumers using the site yet, but if enough consumers eventually shared/posted actual prices they paid for routine health care services, collectively, consumers will have created a very powerful directory of true prices for health care services.”
So if you have an HSA, or even just a higher deductible PPO plan and you want to know how to get more bang for your buck, check out www.OutOfPocket.com. She is certainly gathering info still, but this will be a dynamic process, so bookmark her site! Be well!
08-05-2008by Colleen King
Annuities are a tool that allow money to grow on a tax deferred basis. Not tax free, tax deferred. Tax deferred growth is the benefit of retirement plans, whether you are looking at an employer plan such as a 401k or 403b, or an IRA you start yourself. The idea is that you let this money grow, and when you are ready for retirement, either you won’t be working or you won’t be working as much, so your income drops, ergo your tax liability drops. Here is a link to a really nice simple chart (just the kind I like) that will show you the type of growth you stand to gain.
Annuities and tax deferral
Fixed annuities, whether a regular fixed or a fixed indexed annuity, allow your money to grow on a tax deferred basis, but does NOT have to be set up as an IRA. A lot of advisers used to tell people not to used an annuity as a personal retirement vehicle for IRAs because of fees that were often associated with them, and frankly because there was more money to be made for them if you went into a stock based account.
Well, since the stock market has become so volatile, a lot of people are looking to some kind of a fixed annuity because with these, unlike the stock market or the majority of variable annuities, your principle is guaranteed. Once you hit a certain age in life, you don’t want to risk losing what you have saved and try to rebuild it again.
When planning for retirement most experts will tell you to take advantage of all the ‘pre-tax’ options available. Once you max those out, but you still have excess money you would like to put away, you can either look at a Roth IRA or an annuity. The advantage of a Roth is that you are putting away after tax money so when you pull money out of it, your gains are tax free. The potential disadvantages are the annual limits on what you can deposit and if your income is above a certain amount you aren’t eligible to have a Roth. That still leaves you with annuities as an option. No limits on how much you can put in, your financial status doesn’t come into play so it’s one of those things to consider. Especially if you have some windfall bonus, inheritance or some other good fortune come you way.
So there is a combination of ways to do this, you just need to assess the best prospects! Be Well!...read more
07-31-2008by Colleen King
I always feel bad for people who find health insurance confusing–the things that really make it hard to understand, most people don’t even encounter. Most initial questions revolve around ‘what’s a deductible?’ Right after ‘what’s the difference between an HMO and a PPO (see my other post about that).
When evaluating a health insurance plan, either individual health insurance or a group health insurance plans, the one thing most people look at is ‘what’s my co-pay?’ It’s a good thing to know that, but more importantly (to me) are the following three items:
Out of Pocket maximum
The deductible generally is what you pay before your coverage kicks in. Some benefits will be available prior to meeting the deductible, like the office visit co-pay. Deductibles are generally involved with PPO plans but in order to drive costs down HMO plans, particularly individual HMO health plans, are starting to have deductibles. I try to get my clients to look at the higher deductible health plans in order to save money on their monthly premium, but it all boils down to what people are comfortable with.
Co-insurance refers to what the insurance company pays versus what you pay once the deductible is met. you hear about 80/20, 70/30, 60/40 even 50/50 plans. The insurance companies pay the larger number.
The out of pocket maximum is really important because if something big happens to you, this is the number that keeps you from going broke. When a major health issue hits once you’ve met your deductible, and the 70/30 co-insurance kicks in, once your ’30% s’ hit the out of pocket maximum that is generally it for the rest of the calendar year. You may still have office visit co-pays and prescription co-pays, but other costs are pretty much taken care of until January 1 the next year. On a lot of PPO plans these can be $7500 or more, which isn’t chump change, but when you put that up against a surgery costing $100,000 or more, then it becomes a bargain.
Of course there are many other things to look at. Many individual health insurance plans in California, in an effort to come up with affordable plans, don’t cover maternity. Some plans offer generic drug coverage only, there’s all sorts of combinations coming up so you really need to look at what you are considering purchasing. That’s where an independent agent can come in handy.
Independent agents can help you sort through all of what’s available and help you decide which options will fit your situation best. AND, best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything to use an agent. The rates are the rates, and independent agents are paid by the carrier you place your business with. And a good agent will be there after the sale to hep you with any issues that come up. Be well!...read more