Group Health Insurance
Health care reform
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Individual Health Insurance
Long Term Care Insurance
Medicare related coverage
03-22-2009by Colleen King
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are a great way to pay for your health care when you have a qualified high deductible health plan. One big benefit is that any money you deposit into your HSA is deductible on your federal tax return. It’s also deductible on some states’ returns (but not in California, just yet.) HSA eligible plans can be found in individual health and group health insurance offerings.
If you have an HSA, but you didn’t bother to put much in it last year, you can still drop some money in before filing your taxes! If your tax guy calls you like my guy David does, and says ‘hey, can you find a couple more bucks to stash somewhere soon?’ then you have another place to legitimately obtain a deduction.
The catch is that you have to have opened the HSA in 2008, you can’t open it now and try to take the deduction for 2008. If you opened an HSA in 2008 but didn’t fully fund it, and you don’t have some other tax deductible place to put it (or you maxed them all out) remember that the upper limit for 2008 for an individual plan is $2900 and for a family, $5800. DON’T exceed the limits. HSA contributions and disbursements are reported to the Feds.
So if you didn’t open it last year, are bummed that you are missing out on this easy, above the line deduction and you are eligible, open it now. Get a head start on your 2009 deductions. Depending on where you open it, you don’t have to deposit a fortune. I don’t claim to be a tax expert, just an expert tax payer as one now defunct radio talk show host used to say. So consult your tax adviser to see if this is a good way for you to handle this situation.
And, best of all, at the end of the year it’s not ‘use it or lose it’–it rolls over.
Be well!...read more
03-14-2009by Colleen King
There aren’t too many things more complicated that the collection of Medicare Advantage plans available to our Medicare population. There used to be Medicare HMOs and Medicare Supplements. Well Medicare Supplements are still around and serve a great purpose; they work similarly to a PPO health insurance plan because you can go to any doctor. You also pay a monthly premium for these.
Medicare Advantage plans include Medicare HMOs, Regional PPOs and Private Fee for Service plans (PFFS). Yikes! Remember last year when you were deluged with Medicare commercials, after surviving the political commercials? “Sign up now before open enrollment ends!” Well, for existing Medicare Advantage plan members, January 1 through March 31is your LAST last chance to make a change to a comparable Medicare Advantage plan for 2009. And the great thing about these is they have little or no premium cost to join. None of this date and change related information applies to Medicare Supplement members.
So if your friends or parents or some other relative hasn’t been happy with their Med Advantage plan, now’s the time to change or forever hold your peace. Until NEXT November 15 through December 31. Then it starts again! Tell them to contact the insurance company they want to change to or contact their friendly local insurance agent for help and recommendations.
Be well!...read more
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!...read more
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!...read more
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!...read more