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    Understanding Your Coverage

    Basically, there are four ways to go.
    Before you start shopping for health plans, you need to understand one thing: coverage. Although the same benefit may be included in each coverage plan, it may be paid at a different benefit level. For example, emergency care is a benefit common to most plans, however, one plan may pay for 100% of emergency care cost, while some plans may cover 80% of the emergency care expenses, while others 50%. When you shop for health plans, what you're really shopping for is the level of coverage that's most beneficial for you.

    There are four basic types of health plans available to people who do not receive Medicare or Medi-Cal. A basic understanding of each is essential to choosing the one that works best for you.

    Indemnity Insurance (also called Fee-For-Service)
    You are probably most familiar with this traditional insurance coverage. It pays for most of your expenses resulting from illness or accident, but does not usually pay for preventive care, such as well-child visits and physical exams.

    Indemnity insurance doesn't cover the total cost. Coverage is usually limited to a percentage of the billed amount and only begins after you've met your deductible, which is a yearly, fixed amount of expenses. Under an indemnity plan, you can see any doctor or hospital you want, but the monthly premium is usually higher than other types of health plans.

    HMO (Health Maintenance Organization)
    An HMO covers most of your health care needs, including checkups, immunizations and hospitalization, for a small co-payment, typically between $5 and $40. There are no claim forms with an HMO; however, you can only go to doctors and hospitals affiliated with your plan. A list of affiliated physicians is provided by the HMO.

    EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization)
    An EPO functions in much the same way as an HMO. but is even more exclusive

    PPO (Preferred Provider Organization)
    PPOs cover many of your health care needs for a small per-visit fee if you choose from the list of preferred providers. You can choose to see a doctor who is not on the list, however, you will be responsible for a greater portion of the bill and may have to pay a deductible. Some PPOs do require claim forms.

    POS (Point of Service)
    A POS plan offers you two choices each time you use health care services. One choice is to use the plan as an HMO in which case you are responsible for a nominal co-payment; you must choose your physician from a list of participating physicians; and you must obtain authorizations for certain services and referrals to specialists. Your other choice is to use your health plan like an indemnity plan by choosing care from either a participating or non-participating provider, without coordinating care through your primary care physician or health plan. In this choice, you are generally responsible for a deductible and a percentage of your bill.

    The best time to join a health plan is before you need one.
    Don't wait until you are sick or injured to look for a health plan. Not only does it take time to find a plan that fits your needs, but many plans have pre-existing condition exclusions, which could leave you out in the cold. Think ahead. Are you planning a family? Will you need surgery soon? Will you be moving out of the area?

    If you or your spouse is employed and want to change plans through your employer, ask when the next open-enrollment period will occur. For the peace of mind that you've chosen the plan that's right for you, allow yourself two months to research your various options.

    If your employer doesn't provide health insurance, you'll need to focus on health plans that offer insurance to individuals. You might also investigate associations that offer members the opportunity to join a health plan.

    Your health plan is as good as the physicians in it.
    Good health plans start with the doctor. The first step in choosing a health plan that's right for you is choosing a doctor who's right for you. If you have a doctor you like, find out the plans in which he/she participates.

    Next, consider your special medical needs. If you regularly see a particular cardiologist, allergist or any other specialist, you may want a plan that lets you continue doing so without a referral. (This is especially true when choosing an HMO, which may require an authorization to see certain specialists.) Lastly, think of the hospitals and health facilities you like. Do certain facilities specialize in medical areas that are of particular importance to you? Is one facility more convenient than another? Find out which hospitals are affiliated with which plans.

    Ask for an insurance brochure for each plan you're interested in. Follow our checklist. Read the plan's fine print; and don't wait until you need it.

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