By Tom Murphy, AP Business Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The new health care law promises help for people who cannot rely on an employer-based plan to cover their insurance needs. But that doesn't start until 2014, and millions are expected to need individual plans in the meantime.
Many should be able to find what they need by doing some research, asking the right questions about coverage and using some government help that's already available. Here are basic steps to take before choosing a plan:
Think about your needs.
Consumers can't find a policy that suits them unless they understand what they need. If you see the doctor frequently, a plan that limits those visits to four times a year would not be wise. But that could be an option someone in his 20s who rarely gets sick.
Likewise, a plan that doesn't cover pregnancy wouldn't be smart for people who want to start families. Some options only cover generic drugs, and that means big pharmacy bills for someone who depends on a brand-name prescription medication.
"Once you can identify what the health insurance needs are . that will kind of dictate what your monthly premium will be," said Keith Mendonsa, a consumer health insurance specialist with eHealthInsurance, an online insurance broker.
Before searching for insurance, think about whether you can be added as a dependent to the existing coverage of a spouse or parent.
Do some research.
Premiums, or the price of an insurance policy, vary widely depending on variables such as age, health, where you live and how you want your coverage set up. One place to start sorting options is www.healthcare.gov, which is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The site walks consumers through plan design, helping them find coverage options based on their states and other factors that could affect their rates. It was put together by people who "care about actually being useful to consumers," said Nancy Metcalf, a senior program editor with Consumer Reports who is not involved with the site.