Find the Best Plan
1. Shop for the Best Plan
When selecting a health plan, don't just choose the one with the lowest monthly premium or the one you used before. Benefits can change significantly every year -- as can your family's health needs. The best way to bargain-shop: Jot down your family's average number of doctor visits per year, routine prescriptions, dental cleanings, and other services. Compare what you'd pay over an entire year for these items on each plan. Don't forget to include monthly premiums and deductibles.
2. Consider an HD Plan
It might feel like a big switch if you're used to paying $20 office co-pays. But a high-deductible (HD) health plan can save you hundreds of dollars per month in lower premiums. These plans (which have an annual deductible of at least $1,100 for individuals; $2,200 for families) are great if your family is healthy and doesn't usually visit the doctor too often. Another benefit: Most HD plans qualify you to open a health savings account (HSA), where you can sock away (on a pretax basis) money to pay your insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health expenses. Better yet, unused HSA money continues to grow tax-deferred, year after year. An HD plan might not be right for you, though, if family members have chronic (and costly) health conditions, you're not disciplined about saving money in your HSA, or if having such a high deductible makes you uneasy.
3. Join a Discount Club
If you don't have dental insurance, look into plans like AmeriPlan (ameriplanusa.com), Careington International (careington.com), or HealthInsurance.com's dental-discount cards. Participants in these plans agree to give members up to a 60 percent discount. You'll pay a monthly membership fee (ranging from about $12 to $30), and you'll probably need to pay cash at the time of service. Check each plan's coverage in your area -- some regions have fewer participating providers than others.
4. Join the Farm Bureau
Believe it or not, you don't need to be a farmer to join your state's farm bureau. Simply by paying an annual membership fee (usually less than $50) you're eligible for all sorts of benefits -- including discounted group health insurance in some states. If you or your spouse are self-employed, this might work for you. For more information, type "farm bureau" and your state's name into your Internet search engine.
5. Always Have a Safety Net
If you or your spouse are switching jobs and have to wait for your new health insurance to kick in, ask whether you can extend your policy from your old employer. (The COBRA law requires some, but not all, companies to let you.) If it's not possible to keep your old plan, buy a short-term family insurance plan so you're never without coverage. These policies are relatively inexpensive and can usually be activated within a day or two. Compare plans online at ehealthinsurance.com.