'Tis the season for health insurance, whether you're buying a plan through your employer, through a government-run marketplace in your state or directly from a health insurance company on your own. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can no longer be denied health insurance because you have a pre-existing condition. But that doesn't mean your choice of health plan gets any easier. If anything, having a chronic condition makes a purchase decision more difficult. According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, more than 133 million Americans -- about 45 percent of the population -- has at least one ongoing or chronic condition such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes or asthma. Your health insurance decisions are the same whether or not you have a pre-existing condition, says Craig Rosenberg, health and wellness practice leader for Aon Hewitt, a human resources solutions firm. Everyone has to look at coverage levels, premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. "But your choices become even more important simply due to the fact that you're likely to use more health care than someone who is healthy," he says.
Start the decision with your doctors
A good place to start is with your health care providers. Before you sign up for a health plan, talk to your health care providers about what the coming year might look like for you, advises Glenda Terry, a registered nurse on Aon Hewitt's advocacy team. Are you likely to need surgery or costly procedures? Or is your disease well managed? You may need little more than prescription refills and periodic checkups. While it's impossible to predict exactly how healthy you'll be, having an idea of what's in store will help you crunch numbers and see what options are best. Too many people buy health insurance based on the monthly premiums alone, Rosenberg says. Big mistake. You should never automatically choose the most expensive plan or the least expensive or even the one in the middle, he says. Look at the plan's copays, annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. Then make yourself a worksheet. Look at how much you may spend in the next year going to doctors and whether you're likely to be hospitalized.