If you or your loved ones, friends or employees are shopping for health insurance on the new Marketplace, you need to know the answers to three crucial questions:
When does your health insurance coverage begin? Your policy isn’t in force until you make the first payment. There is a lot of media attention right now around sign-up deadlines. It is important to remember that coverage does not start when you sign up via Healthcare.gov, and coverage does not start when the insurance company sends you paperwork –> coverage begins when your payment is received by the insurer.
How much does this plan really cost? Before you buy, look at the plan’s network and deductibles. You may find a plan that, with a subsidy, costs very little yet has a $6,000 deductible. High deductible plans can mean a lot of out of pocket expenses you have to shoulder up front. These low premium, high deductible plans are similar to catastrophic plans, giving you protection from huge hospital bills; unfortunately, you are responsible for meeting the deductible before much of the coverage kicks in. Also, low-premium, high-deductible plans often have so-called narrow networks, limiting your choices for doctors, clinics and hospitals. You may be better off with a low or even NO deductible plan with slightly higher premiums. These plans help you budget your monthly expenses, knowing you don’t have to come up with larger lump sums to meet a deductible for something like a broken arm.
What is the holiday grace period? December 23, 2013, is the deadline to sign up for health coverage that will begin on January 1, 2014. Initially, the payment deadline was by or before January 1, 2014. The federal government issued a letter to insurers, asking them to extend the payment period. Some insurers have agreed to do so. Community Health Choice, for example, extends the payment deadline for coverage beginning January 1st until January 10th. You still have to sign up by December 23rd! However, you have an additional ten days grace period to pay your first premium.
Health care coverage is an important decision. Despite the rocky roll-out of the federal Marketplace website, more Americans have more choices for affordable coverage. My wish for all of us this holiday season is, first and foremost, a safe and enjoyable time with our loved ones; my second wish is for everyone to be covered with high quality, affordable healthcare.