A (very) last-minute guide to buying health insurance in Colorado

If you purchase health insurance yourself or if you own a small business and are trying to choose a health plan for your employees, you are almost out of time to get coverage for the next year.

The deadline to select a plan that starts January 1 is Friday, December 15. (Open enrollment continues through Jan. 15, but plans purchased after Friday won’t start until February.) If you’re stuck in the web of insurance indecision, don’t worry, because at The Sun we’ve got you covered.

Last week, we hosted a panel discussion with three health insurance experts to help you choose the best plan for you.

You can watch the whole thing here:

But, if you’re just looking for the highlights, here are some ideas.

You better shop around

It can be so tempting to purchase the first plan that appears on your search results. But that may not be the best option.

If you have a doctor who is important to you, you’ll want to make sure they’re in the network of the plan you’re going to choose, said Colorado’s Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway. You also want to make sure that if you have any prescriptions, those prescriptions are covered under the plan you’re going to choose.

Conway said, guys, the main issue is to go to the store. There is a lot of assistance available to you from both the federal government and the state of Colorado to help you pay your health insurance premiums. By shopping around further you may be able to find a cheaper plan within the same metal tier you were in this year.

Claim what you are owed

It’s always a good idea to check if you’re getting everything you can when it comes to financial aid. Colorado has new state-funded subsidies that can help low-income individuals and families pay the costs out of pocket. And, if you haven’t checked in a few years, you may find you’re eligible for expanded federal subsidies that first started during the pandemic.

There’s no harm in getting tested, said Kevin Patterson, CEO of Connect for Health Colorado, the state insurance exchange. This is the most stubborn data point I have seen. Everyone says, oh, I earn too much for this. And I say, do you?

If they’ve been renewing in the same plan for several years, they may actually be eligible for a subsidy they’re just giving up, Conway said.

The only place you can apply for a subsidy is the Connect for Health Colorado website. Use the quick cost and plan finder to see if you’re eligible for assistance and also see what plans are available in your area.

See the full cost of coverage

Most people who purchase health insurance do so based on choosing the least-expensive premium price. This is not the best way to do things.

This is because plans with low premiums are more expensive when you actually have to use them because they come with higher deductibles.

It’s kind of like saying you have a car but you’re just making monthly payments, you don’t have to get the oil changed or new tires put on it or put gas in it, Patterson said. There are other expenses that come with the total cost of ownership. And I think you really have to think about health insurance in the same way.

So when buying insurance think not only about your monthly budget, but also how much you are likely to use it and how much you can afford to pay out of pocket at any one time. This will help you make better decisions that can save you money in the long run.

Be honest about your needs

Well, how do you anticipate what your health care needs will be, especially if you don’t have ongoing health conditions or planned procedures? You have to think like an actuary and come up with an honest prediction for the unexpected.

“I’m looking at the structure of the family to see if they have young children, I’m going to say right now if they’re accident-prone,” said Megan Fearing, a health insurance broker and past president of the broker group NABIP Colorado. Apart from this, I am also asking the question, how many times did you guys get sick this year? How many times did you take time off from work? Do you have something that is bothering you?

Look at previous years’ health expenditure and use the average as a baseline. Then start doing the math: Does 12 months of low premiums make sense if it means you’re paying most of your annual medical bills out of pocket before your deductible is met? Or can you save money by paying more per month in premiums if it means you reach your deductible earlier?

Know when you need help

Even in these last hours, health insurance brokers and Connect for Health assistants are available to help you navigate the system and choose the best option. Even better, they work for you at no cost and the broker can also be useful in ensuring you get the most from your plan once you select your coverage.

Connect for Health also has a broker lookup tool as well as a scheduling tool to receive assistance at a certified assistance center.

A broker can really help you have a smooth journey through the process, Fearing said.

Story Type: Explainer

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