How to Shop for Individual Health Insurance

Here are some tips to consider when shopping for individual health insurance.

More in Health Insurance Plans, HMO, PPO, Managed care health

If you find yourself in the position of shopping for an individual health insurance policy, there are certain things you'll want to keep in mind. Whether you are coming out of a job that covered you before, or are at the end of your COBRA benefits, or simply have never had coverage before there are things you can do to get coverage on yourself and your loved ones.

The basic thing to know is that if you have a shot a group health insurance, whether through a job or an association you're a member of, that is usually much more affordable than buying individual health insurance on your own. First you need to figure out your health insurance goals; in other words, what are you after?

If you're young, healthy as a horse, no dependents and not attempting Mt. Everest next week, you may want to opt for a policy that covers only the catastrophes, and cover the rest out-of-pocket. On the flip side of that, if you're the sole bread winner with a family to support, the scenario is different.

The basic choices you'll have are Fee-for-Service, Managed Care Plans, and Association-based health insurance. Fee-for-service is the traditional indemnity plan, harder to acquire, more expensive, but usually great coverage. Managed care plans include most HMO's and PPO's. These offer lower costs but your choices are somewhat limited. Another way to get insured is through a group or association you may already be a member of, such as professional, religious or trade organizations. Often they may offer health insurance. It's worth checking out, as sometimes you can strike gold in this vein.

Things to consider when you're looking for any policy are what's covered on this plan, how much are the monthly premiums, what is the yearly out-of-pocket, what is the deductible, how much are office visits, does it cover preventative medicine, vision, dental? And I'm sure you can come up with many of your own. Sit down before you go shopping and make a list of your needs and wants, and decide in advance what you're willing to give to get. Be aware that once you start getting quotes they can vary as much as 50% for the same person! Remember, you're shopping, and nobody's making you do anything. If one insurer isn't cutting it, move on to another. If you're coming at this cold and have no good recommendations it may be wise to use a broker who represents several companies, as he or she wil be more likely to find the best policy for you, as opposed to selling the company they work for.

Shopping for individual health insurance can be frustrating and time-consuming, but if you come armed with facts you'll be able to navigate this highly competitive and ever-changing field.

Keith Thompson is the webmaster at health Insurance Plans, a site geared toward helping you find great individual health insurance!

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