Health insurance can help you afford health care costs: Part 1

Why is health insurance important? Four reasons why it can save you a bundle.

Health care can be costly. Doctor visits, medicine, braces and glasses are some expenses you have to pay for beyond an insurance premium. The good news is there are ways to manage your health care costs to save money. This article will focus on four personal and financial reasons to have health insurance. Also look for related articles on estimating your total health care costs (Part 2) and special health savings accounts (Part 3).

My Smart Choice Health Insurance states four reasons why health insurance is important.

Peace of Mind: If you do not have health insurance, check it out. You may be surprised at the affordability. According to a Health and Human Services report on December 30, 2014, 89 percent of the 123,208 Michigan residents who selected 2015 plans through HealthCare.gov in first month of open enrollment are getting financial assistance to lower monthly premiums. Of those, 53 percent were new enrollees. Another 36,015 were determined eligible for Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan, or MiChild by the Marketplace since November 15, 2014. Take the first step and find out how much financial help for which you could qualify.

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, four in ten uninsured do not think they will have to pay a penalty. If you do not have health insurance in 2015 and beyond, the increased penalty at income tax time will be due (How much will you owe for not having health insurance coverage in 2014?). So you may pay now with some peace of mind if you get sick or injured, or pay later with no benefits.

Financial Protection: Health insurance helps protect your family’s financial future. Health insurance helps pay costs when you need care and protects you from very high medical expenses. You may not feel that you need health insurance right now – health insurance is for helping manage risks – in this case potential future health problems.

In 2013, over 20 percent of American adults were struggling to pay their medical bills, with three in five bankruptcies due to medical bills. Sometimes we are quick to blame debt on poor savings and bad spending habits. However, research shows the burden of health costs causing widespread indebtedness. Medical bills can completely overwhelm a family when illness strikes,” says Christina LaMontagne, VP of Health at NerdWallet. Furthermore, 25 million people hesitate to take their medications in order to control their medical costs. Unfortunately this can lead to even worse financial outcomes as preventive treatments are not rendered and patients end up using expensive ambulance and ER care as their health worsens.

Prevention Services: Many health insurance plans offer services and programs to help keep you healthy, thus saving you time and money over time. The Affordable Care Act includes free preventative benefits for adults at no cost to you, without charging you a copayment or coinsurance. This is true even if you have not met your yearly deductible. In addition to annual wellness visits, some plans also offer benefits such as personal wellness coaching, healthy pregnancy programs, gym membership discounts, nutrition counseling, online seminars/webinars, checklists, tools and calculators.

Better Health Outcomes: If you and your family have adequate insurance coverage, based on your health care needs and wants, and use your health insurance as it is intended to be used (prevention visits, immunizations, etc.), this can lead to overall better health for everyone. Even if you have a pre-existing health condition, you cannot be turned down or charged more for health insurance.

Open Enrollment in the Marketplace runs through Feb. 15, 2015. Consumers should visit HealthCare.gov to review and compare health plan options. Consumers shopping for health insurance coverage should sign up by Jan. 15, 2015, in order to have coverage effective on Feb. 1, 2015. If consumers who were automatically reenrolled decide in the coming weeks that a better plan exists for their families, they can make that change at any time before the end of open enrollment on February 15. If income and family size indicate eligibility for a government health insurance plan, you will be redirected to that enrollment site.

Consumers can find local help at: Localhelp.healthcare.gov or in Michigan at Enroll Michigan. You can also call the Federally-facilitated Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. TTY users should call 1-855-889-4325. Translation services are available and the call is free.

In summary, three key reasons to see what you qualify for are that 1) There are different types of plans available so you can find coverage that meets your needs and budget, 2) Preventive care is free, including cancer screenings and wellness checkups and 3) Quality care no matter what. You cannot be turned down or charged more for being sick or having a pre-existing condition. Take the first step to check out how much financial help you could receive. Then make your informed enrollment decision.

Michigan State University Extension is providing education about health insurance basics this year, including the why, what and how for making a smart decision. Find out about Smart Choice: Health Insurance Monday webinars, workshops and factual information at http://aca.msue.msu.edu .

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