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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Frugal healthcare. . . .

I am an admitted eavesdropper, especially when I'm on my 20 minute commute on the local lightrail. The topics people choose to discuss between themselves and over cellphones in public never ceases to amaze me.

Last week, I was privy to a conversation that a young woman was having about a family member who had suffered a seizure, leaving her unable to speak, and without the use of her right leg. The family member does not have health insurance. Local hospitals were willing to stabilize her, but not treat her in the way that she needed---because they knew they would not be paid. The young woman was counseling another family member about how to get healthcare in Canada. She suggested driving the sick relative to Vancouver, BC (we're about a five hour drive from Canada), visit a hospital there, and claim to have been staying there on vacation when the seizure occurred. Because Canada has universal health insurance, the sick relative would be treated at no (or very little) cost.

Aside from feeling horrible about this woman's precarious situation, I also felt incredibly lucky to have an employer who covers all of my health insurance costs. I pay $1 for prescriptions. I pay nothing to see a doctor. Nothing to see a dentist. Sure, it's an HMO, but I'm covered.

What about people who don't work for employers who offer health insurance? How can they find insurance that is affordable and that will protect them from unexpected illnesses like this woman's seizure? I was so moved by the conversation that I heard last week, that I did a little reading, and here are some suggestions:

First, check your state government website. Many states, including mine, have information for consumers about obtaining all kinds of insurance, including health insurance. In fact, my state ever offers government insurance, for those who have been denied coverage by private insurance companies.

Then, compare quotes. There are many health insurance companies that will take information over the phone and will provide a quote within minutes. Call several companies to see what your options are, and how inexpensively you might obtain the same level of insurance coverage. There are even online sites where you can receive several quotes over the internet, without ever picking up the phone.

If you have auto or home insurance, see if these companies offer health insurance. Sometimes, insurance companies will give you a discount if you have multiple lines of insurance. However, be careful: you might save money if you were to go with a different company altogether, so continue to compare costs and coverage with other companies.

Consider how much you are willing to pay for prescriptions, copays, and deductibles. If you're able to agree to a higher deductible, your monthly premium will oftentimes decrease. The same goes for the percentage you're willing to pay for prescriptions and copays to see a doctor---the more you're willing to pay upfront for these services, the less your premiums will be.

Quit smoking! If you're a smoker, then quit as soon as you possibly can. Smoking is a risk factor that is taken into account by health insurance companies, so smokers will pay higher premiums than non-smokers. And calculate how much money you'll save---no cigarettes to buy, plus lower premiums. It's a win-win situation.

Lose weight! Again, if you're overweight (as defined by the insurance company), you may be seen as a higher risk---and you'll pay higher premiums. Now might be the best time to stick to that new exercise and diet regime; it may literally save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Consider your profession. Do you work with chemicals? In high rise construction? Professional tightrope walker? These professions might be considered high risk, and might contribute to higher premiums as well.

Clearly, the best way to obtain affordable health insurance is to work for an employer who offers it, and then do your best to stay healthy. However, if you're still looking for that perfect job with the perfect benefits (if you find it, let me know), private health insurance is a must-have in our country, with the exhorbitant cost of hospital and emergency care.

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