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Healthcare.gov enrollment now open, but what can consumers do to save?

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Kim Shores
Some worry about paying full price for exchange insurance
Some worry about paying full price for exchange insurance

Millions of Americans who are eligible to either renew their health insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov or sign up for the first time are now eligible to do so for the 2016 calendar year. However, some experts are cautioning that consumers who are looking to save money might instead end up making some costly mistakes when it comes to selecting the right plans for their unique needs.

There has been a trend among many Americans since the health insurance mandate went into effect that they will simply buy what they perceive to be the most affordable coverage they can find, according to a report from the New York Times. However, what people think is affordable and what actually is going to provide them reasonable coverage at the lowest cost possible may actually end up being very different.

Open enrollment for 2016 is underway, but do consumers know enough about their options?Open enrollment for 2016 is underway, but do consumers know enough about their options?

Why is this the case?
One of the biggest missteps people make in this regard is that they often end up just buying the health insurance plan that has the lowest monthly premium, the report said. While that may, on the surface, appear to save them a lot of money over the course of the year, the problems with these plans can quickly become apparent if they actually use the plans for what they were intended: Covering the cost of health care.

This is because low-premium plans often come with massive deductibles as well as sizable co-pays, meaning that while they're paying very little for their coverage from one month to the next, even a routine checkup can end up wiping out a few months' worth of the savings they thought they were getting.

Other issues
This is, however, not just an issue with individual consumers with little to no background in buying their own coverage, the report said. Many companies, in an effort to shift rising health care costs onto their employees, likewise opt for low-premium plans with higher deductibles and consequently land workers in the same type of financial difficulties, especially if they have something more serious than the flu.

All of this leads many experts to wonder whether something can be done better when it comes to educating consumers about the options they may have for coverage.  This education includes how to balance the cost of the plan and the benefits consumers will receive in order to maintain their overall health. Data suggests that in most cases, consumers who have more knowledge about how health insurance works are, perhaps not surprisingly, going to make better decisions about their coverage overall. However, many who choose the wrong types of plans may end up simply avoiding beneficial preventative care and low cost treatments that may lead to early detection or prevent more serious diagnoses that carry bigger price tags to treat.

That kind of education effort may behoove health insurers as well, because it is likewise far less expensive for the health insurers to pay for a higher utilization of preventative care than fewer number of large claims for serious illnesses that could have been prevented.

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