It is happening to millions of Americans—you suddenly find yourself without health insurance perhaps because you have lost your job, changed employment, lost benefits at your current job or are self-employed. Navigating the insurance world to find what options are available, what companies can provide for you and what plans best suit your needs can be overwhelming. Here, the adage of comparing apples to apples really applies. Make sure you are comparing equal factors when shopping for health insurance.

Shopping for Health Insurance CoverageTypes of Health Insurance Coverage Available

There are basically four types of health insurance coverage options to consider:

  1. Fee-for-Service (FFS). This type of insurance allows you to choose which doctors you want to visit. If you need a specialist, you can choose one at your own discretion. The premiums for this type of insurance are generally higher compared to other types of plans but can be controlled by opting for a higher deductible.

  1. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO): Just over one-third of all health insurance plans are PPOs. PPO plans do not offer the same flexibility as Fee-for-Service plans. You choose a healthcare provider from a list of approved providers or you may opt to pay out-of-pocket to see out-of-network providers. PPOs tend to have larger networks making it easier to choose from those approved. The premiums for PPO are generally lower than Fee-for-Service plans which means you will pay more out of pocket than some of the other plans such as HMOs.

  1. Point-of-Service (POS): Point-of-Service networks are a compromise option of the PPO and HMO. They require you to see an approved provider physician as your first point of service for your healthcare needs and then, if your physician deems it necessary for you to seek the services of a specialist, you will be referred to an approved specialist from the network or you can opt to see a provider out of network and pay for the costs out-of-pocket. POS plans often have low co-payments and deductibles.

  1. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO): HMOs are highly restrictive, with very little flexibility in physicians, facilities or treatment plans. You will pay less out-of-pocket and have less paperwork but you also have less freedom to see healthcare providers of your choice, including specialists and fewer options for care facilities. Deductibles are generally lowest in an HMO.

Some Things to Consider

As you begin to research and compare the health insurance options available to you, you will want to consider and compare some of the following points:

  • Compare Ratings: Don’t just compare the specific features of the health plans, but compare the ratings of the insurance companies that you are considering. Check with http://www.standardandpoors.com/ to review ratings on insurance companies or www.ambest.com for insurance company ratings. Choose from the strongest insurance companies who can offer the least expensive and most comprehensive plans.

  • Major Coverage: Make sure that you read the policies carefully and watch for major exclusions or exemptions. Some companies have eliminated prescription drug coverage or severely limited major medical coverage, for example. Companies who tout that they accept everyone, regardless of the health conditions usually have highly limited payouts.

  • COBRA: If you have recently lost your job or are changing companies, COBRA coverage (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is available. By law, your former employer must allow you to remain on the group insurance policy for up to 36 months. COBRA premiums are paid exclusively by the insured and there is no employer contribution, but it is a helpful option to cover you between jobs.

  • Guaranteed Renewal: Certainly avoid policies that are not guaranteed renewable. You do not want to get health insurance coverage only to have it cancelled later. An automatic renewal is the optimum situation.

As you search for health insurance, be sure that you are comparing your apples to apples, oranges to oranges, or in this case, always evaluate the price you pay for services, the coverage you receive and the quality of services you can expect.