What insurance to buy when your budget’s cut to the bone

Every time you hear from your insurer, it's usually bad news. The premium is going up again, the percentage of co-payments is increasing, there are new exceptions to coverage on some of the diseases you thought were covered. As a result, there are nearly 48 million uninsured people in the US. Even the middle class is finding it difficult. Although President Obama is making encouraging noises about reform, that's all in the future. He hasn't issued a plan. He's waiting for Capitol Hill to come up with ideas. Like that's going to produce fast results. In the meantime, it's down to you to find affordable cover. Well, you're in the right place. Every insurance company has some kind of presence online and there are increasing numbers of sites like this that let you search multiple insurers. But getting quotes directly and through sites like this is just the first step. You then have to take the time to compare what's on offer. Simply choosing the one with the lowest premium is a recipe for disaster. If you're unlucky and fall ill, you then find out you're not covered for that disease or disorder, or that it comes at the top end of the co-payments scale and it's going to run through your savings rapidly. So what should you do?

Let's start with those low premiums. The majority of companies offer discounts to get you to jump ship. The cheap rates apply for the first twelve months and then the "normal" rates apply. There's a temptation to run from one insurer to another at the end of each year. That way, you get some cover at discounted premiums but all the administrative hassle of changing the network of doctors and care providers. Just when you got to know one set, you're introducing yourself to another. The other problem is there's usually a catch. Some companies have a lead-in period when you pay all the bills or there's a high level of co-payments during the first year. So it's silvered words to get you to sign up and bigger bills for you if you fall ill. Always read the small print before you sign up!

So where can you get good value? Well, you can look at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Together, they can provide low-cost access to hospitals and physicians. The second option is a limited form of gambling. If you're in reasonably good health, you can opt for a health insurance plan that only covers hospital and surgical treatment. That way, you're covered against accidental injuries and emergencies, and delay paying for coverage on the diseases that tend to affect older people. Hopefully, the economy and your pay will have improved by the time the dangers of the coverage justify extending the policy. Health insurance should not be a gamble but, when the economy is so bad and household budgets are feeling the strain, tailoring the cover is the best way to save dollars.

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