Research Options for Best Deal on Health Insurance

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Research Options for Best Deal on Health Insurance


Byline: Mike Causey, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Several years ago, a friend of mine was being wheeled out of the hospital after a heart procedure. Before they got to the front door, the nurse wheeled him to the cashier's office, where he was presented with a bill for about $40,000. He was urged to settle up before he left.

Don't let that happen to you. A big medical bill could set you back or wipe you out.

That's something federal and postal workers and government retirees don't have to worry about, if they belong to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and if they pick a plan that will protect them from the costs of a catastrophic medical problem or accident.

All of the FEHBP plans are good, but when it comes to certain benefits, some are better than others.

The open-enrollment season, when feds and retirees pick their 2005 health plan, ends Dec. 13. You don't want a non-decision, which would leave you in your current health plan, to wind up costing you a lot in higher premiums, reduced benefits or vastly increased out-of-pocket costs.

Walton Francis, editor of Checkbook's 2005 Guide to Health Plans, says catastrophic coverage is something that everyone should consider when shopping for a health plan. Checkbook ($8.95 at most newsstands) rates health plans by estimated total cost to you. That cost includes the premiums you will pay, regardless, and any out-of-pocket costs that you might incur during a good year in which you have no medical problems, a year of routine medical care or a bad year requiring catastrophic coverage.

As far as maximum protection, Checkbook ranks most of the health maintenance organizations (HMOs), such as Kaiser Permanente and MD-IPA, as best buys when it comes to catastrophic coverage. Mr. Francis says that in most of the HMOs, catastrophic coverage is good to excellent. For example, a single person with catastrophic medical bills next year could expect to pay about $4,000 in total and a family of two could expect to pay $9,000.

If you pick Blue Cross standard's preferred provider organization (PPO) plan and have a major medical event next year, your likely total costs (premiums and out of pocket) would be less than $5,000 for a single person and a little more than $6,000 for a family of two. …

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