A double dose of good news on health insurance

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This is not a guaranteed price, as complications or other factors could affect the final cost. But that should be enough to help you compare prices between vendors if you make a choice or plan ahead for the year.

Some health systems, such as Michigan Medicine, offer two types of price estimate information: one for people who are not yet patients, and one for people who are already patients and whose insurance plan is recorded in their patient file. To obtain the latter type of information, you must log into your patient account.

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The new rule is especially useful if your health insurance plan has a deductible, which is an amount you have to pay for the health care you receive before your plan takes over and pays the rest.

“Many health insurance plans now have deductibles of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, as employers and market plans require people to bear more of their own health costs,” explains Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, MS, MPH, a primary care physician and researcher at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, who studies how people make choices about health care costs. “It is therefore particularly important for people benefiting from these plans to have advance access to potential expenses. But that access is only valuable if people know they have it and use it.

Kullgren explains that the new rule could make navigating health plan deductibles more like navigating auto insurance deductibles, which most car owners are familiar with. If your windshield cracks or your mudguard is slightly bent, you must pay to repair the damage, up to the amount of the deductible.

So if you need minor repairs, you can get estimates from several repair shops before deciding which one to use. Or you can decide to walk around with a dented bumper or a cracked windshield until you’ve saved up enough money to fix it, and hope you don’t get a ticket or your bumper. shocks will not fall.

Of course, when there is a medical emergency, “shopping around” makes no sense and can even interfere with needed care. But when it’s time to shop, big price differences for comparable health services can translate into big savings.

With health care, the deductible is reset every year. So, in January, you know you will have to pay the first $ 500, $ 1,000 or more that your health care costs, except for some preventive services that cost you nothing out of your own pocket thanks to the Health Care Act. affordable care.

But if your health insurance plan has a high enough deductible, you are also entitled to another benefit: a special type of health savings account in which you can put money tax-free and which is renewable from year to year (this is different from the flexible expense accounts offered by some employers, which must be emptied each year.)

SEE ALSO: Many “rainy day” medical accounts are not opened or completed, study finds

Kullgren’s research shows that many Americans who might open or use these accounts don’t actually do so. He also researched several years ago how people used the pricing information that was then available, before the new requirement came into effect – and found that many people did not use it.

So if you know you might need a certain health service this year, Kullgren advises checking the prices on several hospital websites and trying to open a health savings account at a bank or credit union that offers them. Start saving now on the estimated amount you will pay.

“The new law on price transparency, availability of HSAs, and other tools your employer or healthcare system may offer can help you plan ahead and avoid a financial pinch,” Kullgren said. “But you have to take matters into your own hands to get the most out of them. ”

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