Health Insurance & The Affordable Care Act: What Your Family Needs to Know
Thank you to UnitedHealthcare for sponsoring this conversation. The ideas, thoughts, and opinions are all mine.
When you bring up the topics of health insurance and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most people have one of two reactions:
A) Premiums, deductibles, PPOs, oh my! This stuff is way over my head, so I’ll let someone else handle it.
B) The Affordable Care Act? That is such a politically charged issue that I’d prefer to stay far away from it.
But because health coverage is so important to your family’s health, finances, and overall wellbeing, it’s important not to shy away from the topic.
With open enrollment for 2015 ending on February 15, now’s the right time to dive in and see if the ACA could be saving your family money, helping you get better coverage, or both.
The Affordable Care Act: The Basics Families Need to Know
While all the changes associated with the ACA are too much to go into here, there are a few important points that all families need to realize about healthcare reform. Because the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to be to make smart decisions for your family.
Some of the biggest and most important changes* are:
You can no longer be denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
States now have health benefit exchanges where you can shop around for healthcare coverage.
More preventative services are now covered without co-pays or deductibles.
Plans that cover dependents now cover adult children until the age of 26.
(*Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but these are the general guidelines that apply to most people.)
As I mentioned earlier, it's important for families to know that open enrollment for the new healthcare marketplace for 2015 ends on February 15. This time of open enrollment is when you're able to shop various plans and find the one that's best for your family.
While there are certain qualifying events that allow you to use a special enrollment period, most people securing coverage through the marketplace need to do so between November 15 and February 15.
If the idea of open enrollment leaves your head spinning, check out UnitedHealthcare's Open Enrollment Guide with tips on comparing plans:
Health Insurance Exchanges—What Are They, Anyway?
Health insurance marketplaces—sometimes called exchanges—essentially facilitate the purchase of health insurance in compliance with the ACA. They allow you to compare plans from a variety of providers—much like a Travelocity or Orbitz-style website does for travel—while providing government-regulated health care plans.
To access these exchanges, you will either go to the federal government's Healthcare.gov site, or to your state's individual marketplace website.
Picking the Right Plan for Your Family
The first step in choosing an ideal plan for your family is to think through what kinds of medical events are potentially on the horizon this year.
For what sorts of medical conditions might you or your family members see a doctor?What prescriptions might you need to obtain?Will anyone be having any operations this year?In what ways did you utilize health coverage last year? Will anything be changing significantly this year?
Obviously the future is unknown and we can't predict all of our upcoming medical needs, but it's still helpful to think through these questions and get a sense of where your family stands.
Next, take a look at your financial situation to determine what sorts of payments make the most sense for you. Would a high-deductible plan work for you or not? What sorts of co-pays can you comfortably handle?
These questions are a great starting point for determining what type and level of coverage is best for your family.
Learning the Lingo
If the jargon of health insurance is all Greek to you—What's a deductible? Or co-insurance? Or a premium?—don't let that stop you from moving forward in finding the best, most affordable coverage for your family.
Yes, it's a lot of very specific terminology that you probably don't use on a regular basis, but it's worth the effort to figure it all out and give yourself some peace of mind, knowing that your family's healthcare needs are taken care of. UnitedHealthcare offers this general health insurance glossary, plus specific videos for most of the common terms you'll come across when doing your health plan research.
Getting the Most from Your Health Plan—Including the Best Deal
Let's be blunt: Healthcare costs can be daunting.
Most of us can relate to the experience of receiving a medical bill in the mail, and the feeling of dread that accompanies opening the envelope.
But when it comes to healthcare expenses, ignorance is anything but bliss. The best thing you can do for your family is to stay on top of your costs—checking your deductible regularly, keeping track of out-of-pocket expenses, etc.—so that you're prepared to make smart, informed decisions.
Similarly, speak up about the bill when you're at your doctor's office. Don't be afraid to ask how much a certain medical test will cost and whether or not there's a less expensive alternative.
Finally, doing some research on the "extras" of your healthcare plan can really pay off. Because of the greater emphasis on preventative care, you might be able to save money on the stuff you do that keeps you healthy, like going to the gym or quitting smoking.
The Bottom Line
You shouldn't ignore the ACA because it's intimidating or politically charged. Finding and obtaining the ideal health coverage for your family is actually easier than ever before, once you know how to get started!
How familiar are you with the new guidelines of the Affordable Care Act? Does the process of searching for health insurance and comparing plans take you outside of your comfort zone a little bit?
Be sure to check out UnitedHealthcare's website for more tools and resources, plus UHC TV for lots of other videos demystifying the process of finding and obtaining coverage.