Health Plan Check List

Thanksgiving, when you think about it, is a good time to weigh your odds of getting sick or having a major accident.

Thanksgiving, when you think about it, is a good time to weigh your odds of getting sick or having a major accident. This is no reflection on your cook or driver, just a fact. Lots of people will be on the roads and in the air and in some cases eating strange, unknown food in strange unknown — or maybe worse — known places.

So think about your 2008 health plan. And your 2008 health plans. Do you expect a major illness or accident? Could happen. You have until Dec. 10 to pick your plan. The choice you make could save you $1000 in premiums and tens of thousands of dollars if you have a catastrophic medical year.

Got questions? At 10 a.m. today (EST) Walton Francis, the guy who wrote the book (Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans) on federal health insurance, will be our guest on Your Turn.

Francis Rose and I would be delighted if you — and Walt Francis — did all the talking. You call or e-mail questions. He’ll supply the answers. You can e-mail questions to me or call and talk to Walt directly. You can Listen Live on the internet or, if you are by your radio in the D.C. area, at AM 1050 WFED.

Meantime, here’s a checklist you should consider when looking for insurance:

  • Catastrophic Coverage: This is the reason most people buy health insurance. To cover them if the worst — an illness or accident — happens. All plans have a limit (it ranges from $3,000 to $11,000 per person depending on the plan) to the amount you must pay out of pocket before they assume most or all expenses. Be sure you check that limit which is part of the ratings by plan in Checkbook’s Guide.
  • Preferred Providers: Most plans have preferred providers (doctors and hospitals) that have agreed to treat you for a lower fee. If you go outside that network you can wind up paying an arm and a leg to get an arm and a leg fixed. Checkbook says that if you go outside the network, “you MUST negotiate with these doctors” before treatment.
  • HSA’s& Free Insurance: Checkbook says that with an HSA (Health Savings Account) some health plans, “provide you with a savings account larger than your actual premium cost after taxes. You can end the year with more money than you started, if your medical costs are low.”
  • Protect Your Retirement: To have FEHBP coverage in retirement you must in most cases have been enrolled in any of its plans for the 5-years preceding retirement. Walton Francis suggests that even if you don’t need the FEHBP plan while working you enroll in a low cost FEHBP plan and pay the premiums to satisfy the 5-year rule. He says there are a number of plans with premiums less than $700 and the Mail Handlers Value plan will cost only about $500 a year. Think of it as insurance-so-you-can-keep insurance.
  • FSA’s Pay Uncovered Bills: Consider setting up a Flexible Spending Account. It allows you to contribute up to $5000 per year via payroll deduction and use that money to pay for bills and items not covered by your insurance. You can also setup a pre-tax dependent care account that can be used for day care for both your children and your aging parents. Most pros say FSA’s are a no-brainer.
  • The Kids & Your Ex: Once your children hit age 22 they are no longer covered by your family health plan. But the good news is they can get coverage under any of the FEHBP plans by paying the full premium. The same is true for your ex-spouse if they have a qualifying court order. Check it out. Even with the higher premiums it can be a lot less expensive than paying for one major illnes or accident.

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