Friday, May 8, 2009

Under the Weather Without an Umbrella: Part 1

Between Obama's stimulus plan for Healthcare, the H1N1 virus scare, and the surge of unemployed Americans finding themselves without health insurance, confusion and anxiety over what will happen to access and affordability of care has become a hot topic in the media as of late.  Still, most Americans are passive consumers of the healthcare system - people drive to the closest hospital/clinic, attend physician office visit unprepared to ask educated questions of their doctors, and fail to ask for the generic version of their prescriptions.  The lack of understanding and initiative on behalf of the patient really serves as a detriment to the patient, the provider, and the system at large.  This series will provide a number of ways to improve your understanding of the healthcare system, save time and money, and become a champion of your health:

Health Insurance.  

As if getting pink-slipped is not enough, you now have a serious amount of paperwork to siphon through and figure out, making that last break-up with the ex seem like a cakewalk in comparison.  Here is some high-level options for you to consider, to insure you are insured as you work to figure out and find your next professional move.
  • COBRA:  Most employers offer the option of continuing the current health plan you enjoyed as an employee for a limited time period after your departure (usually 6-18 months)  Under the stimulus act (and assuming you lost your job after September 1, 2008), this means you will pay 35% of your healthcare premiums (the government will recompensate the employer or insurer for the remaining 65% through certain tax credits).  In layman's terms, you will be able to enjoy the same benefits of your previous plan provided through your job, but will be paying a lot more out of pocket for your premium. 
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield/State Programs:  Most states offer a multitude of Blue Cross/Blue Shield programs, that range in benefits and prices.  The website is generally very helpful in guiding you through the necessary steps to attain coverage, but there are a few things to consider before selecting your plan.  First, determine realistically what you need (not necessarily want) in a healthcare plan.  If you have not gone to a physician since Bush I was in office, you may want to consider a "High Deductible" plan - less money paid monthly, but more money paid out of pocket if you do decide to get that annual physical your spouse has hounded you about.  On the other hand, if your provider's clinic seems to serve as a pied a terre, consider a higher premium, more comprehensive plan.    
  • Medicare/Medicaid:  Under certain conditions, you may be eligible for further government assistance with medical expenses.  Because eligibility varies by state, you will need to contact your Local Medicare/Medicaid office to determine if you qualify.  The government has recently put in place additional program funding to aid pregnant women and children who are without insurance.        
When determining the correct option for you, perform an assessment of your overall health needs and expectations of care, along with an analysis of what you can afford.  Ask tough questions and be ready to negotiate ( a common theme in this blog.) Though you may be unemployed, remember your health is still your responsibility, so manage it well!

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