The annual health insurance open enrollment period — the window during which Idahoans can apply for, change or renew their coverage for 2016 — is here.
By now it’s no secret that for most consumers in Idaho, health insurance rates for next year are set to increase. It’s also no secret that shopping for, renewing or switching plans probably ranks low on your list of holiday priorities. While it might be tempting to choose the lowest-premium plan for the sake of convenience and short-term savings, you could very well end up paying more in the long run.
Some simple research and a little due diligence can help consumers avoid overpaying and help them find the cost-to-benefits ratio that is best suited to them. And with prices going up in most cases, it’s more important than ever to understand everything that is included, or not included, in a health insurance plan.
When shopping among plans, consumers are advised to compare not only premiums, but to also look closely at maximum out-of-pocket costs, copays, deductibles, and added-value programs and services. Additional consideration should be made for customer service levels, local presence and the health plan’s relationships with contracted providers. In some cases, a low-premium plan might end up costing more if you get sick or injured and actually need to use your insurance. By contrast, a plan with a higher monthly premium is more likely to provide greater coverage, better customer service and lower out-of-pocket costs when you need it most.
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It’s also important to remember that an individual’s health insurance needs vary widely depending on age, health history and family status, so the best plan for your neighbor or your sister is not necessarily going to be the best fit for you.
For example, a healthy 20-something might choose a low-premium, high-deductible plan, while a middle-aged cancer survivor would likely benefit from a higher-premium plan that has lower out-of-pocket costs.
There are a number of public, private, online and offline resources available to help consumers find the plan that’s right for them, all intended to help make navigating the waters of open enrollment a simpler and more streamlined process. Your local insurance agent is often a great resource to help health care consumers find the plan that is right for them.
Another great resource is Idaho’s YourHealthIdaho.gov, which serves as a comprehensive planning and enrollment tool for individuals, families and small businesses. YourHealthIdaho.gov allows consumers to research available options, compare coverage plans and pricing, and ultimately renew their coverage, switch plans or enroll in a new plan.
Many insurance providers also offer more traditional services, such as live phone support, for individuals who cannot find answers to their specific questions at YourHealthIdaho or through other online resources.
Regardless of whether you have previously purchased health insurance through the exchange or are applying for health insurance for the first time, the time to act is now. This is an important decision and you should take the time to get your questions answered, compare health plan options and enroll in the plan that is right for you. Open enrollment runs through Jan. 31, 2016, so do your research and then renew, switch or enroll in health insurance today.
Josh Bishop is a vice president and Idaho regional director in the health insurance industry and resides in Boise.