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6 questions about containing health care costs in retirement.

Why You Should Never Buy COBRA And Head To Private Insurers Instead.

Faced with sudden unemployment, some former employees gravitate toward buying insurance mandated by COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), a previous stand-by health care solution for some consumers.

COBRA seemed like the natural progression “in the old days” before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed and remained one of the few options for consumers who could not afford to purchase health insurance especially if they had a pre-existing condition or were concerned the plan would drop people from their coverage if they became ill, said Nate Purpura, vice president of consumer affairs at, an online health insurance exchange based in Mountain View, Calif. Some consumers opted out of COBRA because it was frightfully expensive, and today it still remains 50% higher than private plans.

The average annual COBRA premium for an individual’s coverage is $6,145 (or $512 each month), while family coverage is $17,170 (without subsidies), according to using figures from the 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Benefits Survey. Under COBRA, the enrollee typically pays both the employer and employee portion of the health insurance premium plus an administrative fee of 2%.

The amount for private or self-purchased plans is typically 50% less. For individual coverage, the average annual premium is $3,432 while family coverage is $8,724 (without subsidies). COBRA is not the saving grace it once used to be for people who are unemployed. Under the ACA, consumers who lose their employer-based health insurance qualify for a special enrollment period, which means they can purchase health insurance outside of the restrictive nationwide open enrollment period whether they quit or were fired. Still, they must do so within 60 days.

7 tips for lowering your medical bills— even if you have health insurance.

Having insurance may make it easier to get health care, but that doesn’t always translate to medical bills you can afford. High deductibles, copayments and coinsurance mean some people are avoiding medical care altogether to save money. But regular medical care is important, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your health to save money. By tackling your health care strategically, you may be able to avoid that tough decision.

More than 90 percent of Americans have health insurance, leaving 29 million still without coverage, according to the latest data from the federal government. But in a 2014 Associated Press survey of insured adults, one in four said they were not confident they could afford care if they or someone in their family had an unexpected medical need.

If you fear that a future medical expense may too steep, the following steps may help:

1. Find the right plan.

Saving on health care begins with selecting the right insurance plan. Consider how much the monthly premium will cost, but don’t choose your plan based on that factor alone. Instead, evaluate all of your options.

A plan that trades lower premiums for higher out-of-pocket cost — like a high deductible health plan (HDHP)— may make sense for someone with relatively few expected medical needs. Someone with a chronic condition, however, could save more with a plan that has higher premiums and lower deductibles, copays and coinsurance, as he or she will be going to the doctor more often.

Consider your medical needs for the coming year, and use them to estimate how much you’d spend with a few different plans.

2. Visit only in-network providers.
Insurance plans contract with groups of doctors and facilities to form a network that offers lower rates for members. When you use providers within that network, your care is covered at a higher rate. If you venture outside, you’ll have to pay more.

For example, one visit to an in-network family doctor for acute illness could result in a $35 copay, with your insurance picking up the remainder. A visit to an out-of-network doctor for that same illness could cost about $150, or the entire billable cost.

Always check your insurer’s website and search for doctors under your specific plan’s network.

3. Take advantage of FSA and HSA offerings.
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can help you budget for medical expenses while providing tax benefits. If your employer offers one, sign up. When deciding how much to contribute, estimate your medical expenses for the year and go from there. If you have a deductible, set aside at least that much.

A few important points:
● FSAs are— with few exceptions— “use it or lose it” accounts, so estimate your contribution carefully because if there are funds left at the end of the year, you may lose that money.
● HSAs are only available for people with qualifying high-deductible health plans. If you have such a plan, but your employer doesn’t offer an HSA, you can open one yourself through an outside financial institution.
● Unlike FSAs, an HSA is your account and the balance can be carried over from year to year, and even follow you as you change jobs.

READ MORE: What Exactly Is an HSA?

4. Know what’s covered under free preventive care.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insured Americans are allowed certain free preventive services and screenings. These include immunizations and screenings for some types of cancer. Take advantage of this care because it can help you stay healthy and save you money.

READ MORE: What’s Covered Under the ACA’s Free Preventive Care?

5. Save on prescription drug costs.
Prescription drugs can be a major expense, particularly if you need recurring prescriptions.

Save on your medication costs by:
● Choosing generics over brand names whenever possible.
● Asking about a therapeutic alternative when your doctor recommends a brand name with no generic available.
● Asking your doctor for samples.
● Visiting the drug maker’s website for coupons or patient assistance programs.
● Getting your medicine in larger doses and splitting the pills.
● Refilling multiple months at a time.

A money-saving example: A one-month supply of the cholesterol drug Crestor could carry a $65 copay under some plans if a generic is not available. A one-month supply of Zocor— a different brand-name drug that treats the same condition— would cost $215, as insurance wouldn’t cover the brand name because there is a generic available. The cost of a one-month supply of simvastatin, the generic version of Zocor: $15 copay.

READ MORE: How to Save on Prescription Drug Costs

6. Negotiate high medical bills.
When you receive a medical bill, don’t automatically accept the balance as the final amount due. Contact the provider’s billing office to ask if they can reduce the cost. If the person on the phone won’t offer to lower the bill, ask to speak with a supervisor. Also, ask if a monthly payment plan is possible to make the bill more manageable.

READ MORE: A Guide to Negotiating Your Own Medical Bills

7. Carry lessons into the next year.
You may find the plan you chose for this year wasn’t the best for your situation. Make sure you learn from your experience and choose a more suitable plan during your next open enrollment period

How to keep 2016 health insurance premiums in check.

When Is Open Enrollment on Health Insurance Exchanges?

Don’t let the next Obamacare open enrollment slip by without signing up for health insurance on your health insurance exchange.

You can’t sign up for an Obamacare health plan on your state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange whenever you want. Instead, there’s a limited open enrollment period during which you can sign up for a new plan or change your current plan.

If you miss Obamacare open enrollment, you may have to wait until the next year’s open enrollment period to sign up for health insurance.

So, When Is My Next Chance to Get Health Insurance?

The open enrollment period for 2015 health insurance coverage from the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges ended February 15, 2015.

However, the federal exchange at is permitting a one-time special enrollment opportunity for those who discover they must pay the penalty for being uninsured in 2014 and didn’t know about it. This one-time special enrollment period coincides with tax-filing season and runs from March 15, 2015 through April 30, 2015. Some, but not all, state-run health insurance exchanges have opted to provide this same special enrollment period.

Open enrollment for 2016 begins November 1, 2015 and ends January 31, 2016.

Open enrollment for 2017 and beyond runs from October 1 through December 15 of the year before.

For example, if you want health insurance coverage starting January 1, 2018, you can sign up for that coverage anytime between October 1, 2017 and December 15, 2017.

When Will My Coverage Start If I Sign Up During Next Open Enrollment?

For 2016:

  • Sign up by December 15, 2015; coverage starts January 1, 2016.
  • Sign up December 16, 2015 to January 15, 2016; coverage starts February 1, 2016
  • Sign up January 16, 2016 to January 31, 2016; coverage starts March 1, 2016.

For 2017 and beyond, sign up any time during open enrollment and your coverage will start on January 1 of the following year.

What If I Miss Open Enrollment?

If you miss open enrollment on your health insurance exchange, you won’t be able to sign up until the next open enrollment period unless you qualify for a special enrollment period. Learn how to qualify for a special enrollment period, and learn what you’re in for if you don’t get a special enrollment period in “I Missed Obamacare Open Enrollment. What Now?”

If you’re losing your current health insurance and it’s not Obamacare open enrollment, you don’t have to go without health insurance. To learn your options, check out “Lost Your Health Insurance? Not Obamacare Open Enrollment? What Now?”

If you currently have health insurance you bought on your health insurance exchange, but missed open enrollment for the upcoming year, you’ve neglected to sign up for health insurance next year.  You could be in luck, though; your current health plan might be automatically renewed, preventing you from being uninsured next year. Learn more about this in “What Is Automatic Renewal of Health Insurance & How Does It Work?” and “Weighing the Pros & Cons of Automatic Health Insurance Renewal.”



Why Health Insurance is Important.

Why Health Insurance is Important


If you’re a relatively healthy individual, you may find yourself occasionally asking, “Do I even need to have health insurance?” Don’t be foolish though—having health insurance is incredibly important, not to mention it’s the law!


A health emergency can be expensive. A hospital stay in Washington state can costs as much as $3,000 a day!1 Aside from unplanned emergencies, health insurance provides you with a wealth of preventive services that will help you maintain your health and well-being long-term.

Apart from the health aspect, there are also financial implications if you don’t have a health plan.


Under the Affordable Care Art, most people are now required by law to have health insurance either through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid, or by purchasing their own coverage.

Don’t have any of the above? You could be subjecting yourself to an annual penalty that could cost you nearly as much as buying insurance.

Penalties were relatively low in 2014, but are increasing in 2015 and will continue to go up each year, thereafter.

Penalties are assessed in one of two ways and you will pay whichever is greater of the two amounts:

• 2% of your yearly household income. For example, if you make $50,000 and don’t have a health plan, you would be subject to paying a $794 penalty for 2015 according to a calculator from the Tax Policy Center. The maximum penalty is the national average premium for a bronze plan. In addition to the penalty, you will also be responsible for 100% of your medical bills during the year.

• $325 per adult and $162.50 per child under 18 years of age, with a maximum penalty of $975 per family for the year.

Note: In 2016, it will be 2.5% of your household income or $695 per person with a maximum of $2,085 per family.

If you do end up having to pay a penalty for not having health insurance, you will be required to pay it when you file your federal income tax return. If you’re uninsured for just part of the year, 1/12 of the yearly penalty applies to each month you are uninsured. If you’re uninsured for less than three months, however, you won’t have to pay a penalty.

More Insurance Jokes.

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Should I Skip Insurance to Save Money?

When money is tight, you may be looking for easy ways to save money. One item that can be especially frustrating is your insurance bill each month. You send the money in, but then you rarely if ever use it. You may be tempted to try to go without insurance because it is something that you rarely use. However, insurance is there to protect you from the overwhelming catastrophes.

Should I Cancel Insurance Completely?

The simple answer is no. There are three basic types of insurances you need to have no matter what. You need to have health insurance, car insurance, and home or renter’s insurance. Law requires car insurance and you can choose to get just the bare minimum requirements. If you have a car loan make sure you have enough coverage to pay off the loan.

What’s a Life Insurance Premium?

If you have a mortgage, the company will require you to carry the insurance. Health insurance is also required under the Affordable Care Act, and can protect your from financial disaster. If you have any dependents you really should have life insurance, as well.

What If I Never Use It?

If you never use health insurance or make a claim on your car or home owner’s insurance, that is great. However, it does feel like you may be wasting your money. The simple fact is that you do not know when you will need the insurance. No one wakes up and plans to get an appendectomy or to get in a car accident. No one wakes up and thinks it would be great to be robbed today. These things happen everyday to all over the world, and your insurance is your protection so these events are easier to mange. Insurance makes it easier to move forward.

How Can I Save?

One of the ways you can save money is by increasing your deductible. If you rarely use your insurance, you can set aside money each month to cover your deductible.

With a high deductible health insurance policy, you will pay out of pocket until you reach your deductible. However, you will be covered when you become seriously ill, and you will better be able to manage your bills. You can also lower you car and home insurance policy premiums by increasing your deductible. You need to be sure that you can afford to pay the difference. Another way you can save is by shopping for a new policy every few years. Most insurance companies will charge new customers less for their premiums. You can also take advantage of discounts through your job and alumni association to help reduce costs.

Is There Any Insurance I Can Do Without?

There are some options that you may not need right now. One easy example is cancer insurance, which usually offers a one time lump payment when you are diagnosed with cancer. Unless you have an extremely high chance of getting cancer due to family history, you can likely skip this option. When you are in your twenties, you do not need to purchase long-term care insurance, since you will likely not need it until you are a bit older. Finally, you may not need an umbrella policy when you are in your twenties, because you do not have a large number of assets that you need to protect.

Remember that insurance is designed to protect you. The protection it offers is worth the amount that you are paying in premiums each month. It only takes one accident or unexpected event to put your finances in a tailspin. While it may seem like you are throwing money away, you will find at some point just how much your insurance gives you, including peace of mind. Take the time to review your policies each year to make sure that you have the right amount of coverage for your current needs.

Individual Health Insurance

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