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COBRA and Health Insurance–Do you have to pay through the nose, or is there a way to save?

03-06-2009by Colleen King

COBRA–good news or bad news? These days people are either losing their jobs, their health insurance or both. What do you do? I know people aren’t always thrilled with their group health insurance plans but it’s scarier to think of being uninsured if you’ve ever heard the costs one can incur. But then you find out how much your COBRA coverage will be and wow–you need it at least long enough to get out of the CCU from your heart attack.




When COBRA, the option to be able to continue your health coverage when leaving a job first started years ago, people generally thought it was great. This applies to companies with more than 20 employees. But the cost of many group plans is extremely high; most didn’t realize how much their employer was paying to cover them. With COBRA, you pay the entire amount of the premium plus 2-4% administrative costs. In California, we have CalCOBRA which functions similarly but with administrative costs of about 10%.


So now, what’s the big deal?  Why is COBRA so great? Well if you are insurable on an individual plan you don’t need to stick with the COBRA offering. But if you aren’t insurable, all of a sudden it’s usually the best deal in town.  You need to decide within 63 days of when your coverage ended whether or not to take it. What I’ve done with several families is help them select individual health insurance plans for the members of the family that are insurable and leave the ones that aren’t on the COBRA plan. And it doesn’t always have to be the former employee that stays on the plan, you need to find that out from your former employer.


So check out your options. You might be surprised at the possibilities. Contact an independent agent, like me, before you throw in the towel.


Be well!

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Your Health Insurance and a couple of ways to use it to help you save money

02-27-2009by Colleen King

Health Insurance–group health insurance or Individual health, it’s the bane of most peoples’ existence. One way you can save money is on how you use your prescription drug benefit.




Most of you will already know that many brand name drugs have generic equivalents. Whenever you can get a generic, with or without insurance, generics are usually significantly less. For example, I was looking on the Costco web site (great source for lower cost prescriptions) at a drug one of my clients is taking, finasteride. A 30 day supply is $33, the brand equivalent is $94. And these days most individual health and group health plans have brand drug deductibles which are a pain. But the design is to nudge you to the generics and help keep their costs down.


Prescription drug costs are one of the main drivers of health care costs escalating. The insurance companies can get discounts but it won’t drive the brand price down to the generic price, so it costs them more too. And guess who ends up paying? There is debate on whether they are as effective; the vast majority of the time they are, so why not give it a try.




Another way to save on drug costs is not to request the ‘latest and greatest’ that you just saw on TV. I recently had a sinus infection, saw an urgent care doctor and wanted the same major league antibiotic I had a couple of years ago that knocked it out in a couple of days. He said he didn’t want to give me that, rather wanted to give me an older antibiotic that I would take for 14 days.  Argh! Well, I listened to him (sometimes hard for us RNs) and my prescription was about $7 instead of the $90 I paid before. And I was feeling better in a couple of days anyway.




Last, both individual and group health plans usually have mail order drug service available. Look into it by calling the Member Services number on the back of your ID card.  When a health insurance plan offers mail order service, usually you can get a three month supply for the cost of a two month supply. Mail order doesn’t really work for something you need now, like an antibiotic, but if you have maintenance medications you take daily for your heart, blood pressure or asthma, a little planning will save you money and help decrease the cost of health care.


Of course, just staying healthy is the best option of all; Be Well!

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Insurance, insurance everywhere–why do I have to deal with so many companies?

02-12-2009by Colleen King

Health insurance, life insurance, business liability, homeowners, auto, rental property coverage, umbrella policies, long term care insurance–Wow! And of course, there are more types.


A lovely woman named Rose recently posed that question to me. There are a lot of detailed reasons, but I’ll try and make it brief. First, you have to differentiate between insurance companies and insurance agencies. Insurance companies are the entity with the really big buildings in most downtown areas and they write the checks. Insurance agencies can have big buildings too, but agencies represent insurance companies and sell to the public. Insurance companies usually choose to focus on a few areas rather than all areas.  Life and health carriers also may offer Medicare related coverage, disability, long term care insurance, more ‘people’ oriented coverage. Other carriers focus on the property and casualty types of coverage; auto, homeowners, boat, umbrella policies, business liability, basically more along the lines of ‘stuff.’




Even if a company offers things from both sides of the table, there may be subsidiaries that handle it so you still aren’t going to get ‘one bill.’ From there, you have agents and agencies. There are two main licenses insurance agents hold in California, a Life Agent license or a Property and Casualty license. As a Life Agent, I can’t sell homeowners, and a P&C agent can sell homeowners but not usually health insurance. Interestingly, they can sell life insurance, but that doesn’t mean they will. Some P&C agents focus on the personal lines, but don’t do business liability and workers compensation.


If you want to narrow down who you are dealing with, it helps to find agents that handle more than one line of insurance. There are agents that carry both licenses, but that is a LOT to learn and keep up with.


Personally, I feel there is often an advantage of going to an independent agent or agency over going directly to a specific company. You select one insurance company, they generally will only be able to show you their product line. With an independent you can get a variety of options with just one person to deal with. You can still do multiple policies with one agent, and if they can bundle most or all of what you want with one carrier, you can often get multiple policy discounts.


So find a good multiple line agent, or one good Life Agent coupled with a good P&C Agent, that that should help narrow down some of your hassles. Hopefully! You could go to one doctor for all your needs, but do you really want your gynecologist performing your brain surgery? They won’t be thrilled with doing it.


Be well!

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Life Insurance–I’m getting married, do I need to make any changes?

02-07-2009by Colleen King

Last weekend I was at a seminar and met a lovely woman named Lisa, who owns a PR firm and is getting married soon. We were talking about our businesses, I told her about my blog and that I was looking for questions. She had a question about Life Insurance.


She wanted to know what changes she might need to make on her existing life insurance policy. Here are some things you need to consider:


Changing the beneficiary. Depending on what you had the policy for before, you will probably want to change the beneficiary to your new spouse. If you had kids from a prior marriage/relationship, and the policy was intended to take care of them, you need to either keep them as beneficiary (depending on their age) or whomever would be the guardian if something happened to you.

Do you need more coverage? If your policy was intended to take care of you and your assets, reassess where you stand now financially. If you are buying a bigger house, or moving into theirs and the expenses are going up, you might need more coverage. Depending on cost and your health situation, you might do a whole new policy or just add a second to what you already have.

If your needs have decreased, lots of people forget to re-evaluate their life insurance coverage. You might be able to lower your costs with a new policy for a lower face value.

If your policy was covering business needs, and those have changed, you might be able to make the business and your spouse co-beneficiaries and eliminate the need for buying new coverage.



So in short, add up the annual cost of keeping your honey’s life style at the same level it is now, figure out what your financial contribution to that is, and look into the cost of a new policy. Life insurance in general is for income replacement, so see what is affordable without making you “insurance poor.” For help, call your friendly local insurance agent.


Be Well!

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Category: Life Insurance


How badly do you want health insurance reform?

01-22-2009by Colleen King

Now that we have our new president in place and we’re all hoping things financially will improve, let’s talk about the reform of the health care/insurance system.


It’s not going to be free, in fact it could be quite costly. Are you will to do it? Here is an excerpt from an article the Associate Press ran on January 19th:


“Washington – Prospects for health reform drop significantly when Americans hear potential financial trade-offs associated with expanding health insurance coverage, a poll indicates.


For example, nearly seven in 10 people say they favor the concept of requiring employers to provide their workers with health insurance or contribute into a fund that pays to cover the uninsured. President-elect Barack Obama has called for such an employer mandate for medium and large businesses.


But what if they heard the mandate would cause some employers to lay off workers? Support falls dramatically to about three in 10 people, according to a new national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.


Similarly, about two out of three people favor requiring all Americans to have health insurance. But when told some people may be required to buy insurance that’s too expensive or it’s something they don’t want, support for the individual mandate falls to 19 percent.


“As we have learned from past debates, public support looms for health reform largest at the beginning of the debate, but it’s relatively easy to chip away at that support with arguments about trade-offs,” said Mollyann Brodie, a Kaiser vice president.


Researchers said the economy is the overwhelming top concern in the United States, cited by nearly three quarters of the public. Health care is a top domestic concern too. But the survey suggests the public is split when it comes to a willingness to sacrifice financially to get more people insured.


About 47 percent were willing to pay higher insurance premiums or taxes, while 49 percent were not. The study is based on a telephone survey of 1,628 adults conducted in early and mid-December. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.”


Me again–So as you might suspect, once there is a suggestion that people break out a check book, interest generally wanes. You don’t want the government paying for it necessarily, because that means us in taxes. Remember the $600 toilet seats? They aren’t big on cutting costs. But maybe this time will be different, I’ve got my fingers crossed!


In California when the cry for decreasing the number of uninsured was big early last year, and about 6 million people were uninsured, there was an estimate of nearly 2 million people that could afford coverage but they didn’t want to pay for it. So we’re potentially going to raise taxes for everyone so those who don’t want to buy coverage are covered? Talk about expensive!


So we’ve got to find a way, we just have to be watchful of upcoming proposals. Be well, and Happy 2009!

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