Don't shop from a search engine. "If you Google ‘affordable health insurance,' you will see sites that promise instant quotes. You should avoid this option at all costs," says Metcalf. Brand-name major medical insurers rarely market to consumers in a direct-to-consumer fashion and it's hard to tell who is legit. Instead, consult a reputable independent health insurance broker who handles products from multiple companies.
Don't respond to flyers on telephone poles, faxes, robo-calls, or late-night infomercials.
Look up real plans at Healthcare.gov. On this federal web site consumers can search for all legitimate licensed health plans sold to individuals in their given state.
Check with your state insurance department. Consumers who submit questions to Consumer Reports' "Ask Nancy" blog are rarely aware that health plans sold to individuals are regulated by the states. Most state insurance department websites have a guide that explains which major medical plans are licensed by the state.
Make sure everything is covered. Until health reform goes fully into effect in 2014, insurers can sell plans that don't cover some basic medical services. Many plans don't cover prescription drugs, or cover only generics. Some plans in New Jersey cover only $500 a year in outpatient diagnostic tests and don't cover drugs or cancer chemotherapy. Avoid these types of plans. Even if you don't need costly services now, you could down the road.
Find out whether your group plan is a mini-med.The government requires all mini-meds with waivers to include a disclaimer that reads something like this one on a Cigna plan: "Your health coverage…does not meet the minimum standards required by the Affordable Care Act." A disclaimer such as this one is a major red flag, says Metcalf.
Know your COBRA rights. If you leave your job and your workplace has 20 or more employees, the federal COBRA law entitles you and your dependents to stay on your group plan for up to 18 months so long as you pay the full premium yourself, which can be costly. To learn more about COBRA, go to the Department of Labor's website at www.dol.gov.
Consider Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans. If you have a serious pre-existing condition and can't find a carrier who will insure you, you are eligible for coverage under the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan created by the health reform law.
Investigate public programs. If your income is on the low side, your children may be eligible for free or low-cost insurance through your state's CHIP program, and depending on your state's eligibility rules, you may be able to get on Medicaid.
1717 East 12th Street
Cleveland, OH 44114