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Tips when shopping around for health insurance

October 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
When new provisions of health reform take effect next year, it will be much easier to compare health plans. Insurers will have to use a standard form that describes costs in plain English, but until then, choosing a health plan remains quite difficult.

Jaci Herschfeld says she found shopping for health insurance a real chore.

"A lot of health insurance had holes. I wasn't going to get exactly what I wanted. A lot of it was very, very expensive," Herschfeld said.

Consumer Reports analyzed 830 health-care plans ranked by an independent, nonprofit organization called the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

"There's differences in how well these plans perform managing chronic conditions, like asthma or heart disease, and also how well they perform on delivering preventive care like cancer screenings or immunizations," said Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports.

Like Herschfeld, many people have the option of choosing an HMO or a PPO.

"PPOs typically cost a bit more and have higher deductibles. HMOs have low or often no deductibles. However you are usually limited to the hospitals and doctors within the HMO's network."

Another decision these days some people face is whether to opt for a plan with a high deductible, often paired with a health savings account.

"With these plans, there's a trade-off. The premiums are lower, but the deductibles can be as high as $5,000 or even $10,000 if you're buying a plan on your own," Metcalf said.

As for Herschfeld, after much research, she decided to go with an HMO.

"No health-care plan out there is perfect. You just got to weigh the pros and the cons and make sure that you're going with the one that fits your needs best," she said.

And keep smaller insurers in mind. In Consumer Reports' analysis, some of the top-ranked plans were with smaller companies.

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