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I have a good friend who happens to be an accomplished writer. She has, on more than one occasion, commented that writing is like using the toilet. It should be done in private and you should wash your hands afterward.

I have found yet another activity that fits in that category: searching for hand-washinghealth insurance quotes.

In addition to researching insurance policies for my husband’s company, I’ve been looking for my own coverage. Having been laid off last year, I have been covered under COBRA through my previous employer’s plan. My COBRA coverage extends through May next year, so technically I can stay on that plan for a few more months. However, I will have to switch plans when COBRA expires, meaning that I will have to start all over again on paying against deductibles, out-of-pocket, etc. with the new policy.

And while I could join my husband’s company policy as a covered spouse, there are similar reasons why that won’t necessarily work either.

Texas is one of the states that uses the national health exchange (www.healthcare.gov) rather than establishing its own. If you live in the US, you can’t have avoided all the news concerning the difficulty the site has had due to the overload of people trying to log in. While waiting for the logjam to clear so I could log in, I visited the individual sites for the insurance companies that seem to be common to my plethora of doctors: Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and Aetna.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • If you are eligible for tax credits/discounts because of low income, you should visit the national health care exchange www.healthcare.gov to verify your eligibility. If your state has a health care exchange, you may also be able to do that there.
  • The individual insurance company sites are easier to access and easier to navigate than the national exchange. The quotes for the same plan are exactly the same on the national exchange as are offered through the insurance companies’ sites. Therefore, if you’re not claiming a discount/credit against health insurance costs, it’s probably easier for you just to go directly to the insurance companies’ sites.
  • Both the national exchange site and the individual company sites let you “save” and “compare” various policies. You can further filter the policies by such things as premium cost, HMO vs. PPO, etc. This helps narrow down the field to policies which might better fit your needs.
  • The good news is that plans starting January 1 cannot take into account prior medical history or existing conditions. This is a good thing for those of us with RA (and joint replacements, and high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and/or other chronic conditions). So if you can wait until January 1 to start your coverage, it might be a good thing.
  • If you’re 30 years old and a non-smoker, you can find pretty good coverage for around $200 – $250/month. While a non-smoker, I’m no longer 30 years old, and the policies I’m considering are around $750 to $900 per month.
  • Be sure and consider all your medical costs when looking at a health policy. Because I have somewhere between 15 and 20 doctors appointments a year and I have about a dozen prescription medicines I take, I have to look at the cost of office visits and drugs as well as premiums — particularly since I take expensive drugs like Orencia which run about $2000/mo. It turns out that some of the higher-monthly-premium plans are actually more cost effective because they pay a higher percentage of drug costs and have lower office visit co-pays.
  • If you’ve been trying to get into www.healthcare.gov and have had issues, keep trying. I was able to log in and set up my account on a Wednesday evening a week or so after the exchange opened on October 1. I suspect that some of the initial rush is over and the government has been working to improve access.
  • You have until December 15 to sign up for insurance starting January 1.
  • The national site only handles policies that start January 1 when the new health care laws become effective. If you need insurance before then, you should visit individual company sites, or a private marketplace like http://www.ehealthinsurance.com.

At this point, I don’t know which plan I’ll choose, but at least I’ve got the information I need to make an informed decision. I’m appalled at the premium cost, but with my health, I know that the premiums are a small pittance against what I would be paying (or would be able to afford to pay) for my health care needs.

I hope that your insurance requirements are a simple matter. Thanks for checking in.