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Making smart insurance choices

In the Interest of Families

July 3, 2013
Barb Wollan - ISU Extension Family Finance Program Specialist , The Daily Freeman Journal

The amount of information in the media about upcoming changes in health insurance is expanding weekly. That's a sign that people are starting to wonder how it all affects them.

Anxiety. Since health insurance is a complex topic which many folks don't understand very well to begin with, the idea of changes creates some anxiety: "How will I know what to do?" That anxiety may push people to action, but decisions made out of anxiety are very risky.

Keep calm. Instead of letting your confusion and worry push you to do something you don't really understand, I encourage you to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you still have many months before action is required, and you will have many opportunities to learn what you need to know.

Learn a lot before making any decisions. Use information available in the media, from insurers, from government agencies, and other sources. But think critically. Not all information is created equal.

Consider the source: what is their motivation? Does the information come from someone who wants to sell a product, push a political agenda, build their media market, or who has any other self-serving agenda? That information may still be useful, but keep in mind that it may be incomplete or exaggerated, or emphasis may be slanted in one direction.

Get information from multiple sources, to balance out special interest information and to learn more. Hearing the same concept explained in different ways helps strengthen our understanding.

Get some of your information from non-commercial, non-political sources. Suggestions include: www.healthcare.gov; the Kaiser Family Foundation kff.org/health-reform/ and www.extension.org , the national Extension website, which this month is building its base of Frequently Asked Questions about health insurance.

Resist scams and hard sells. Whenever there is consumer confusion, there are opportunists ready to make a buck. Some criminal activity has already been seen; in addition, you may experience over-zealous sales pitches for products that are legitimate but which may or may not meet your needs.

Beginning in September, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will be offering workshops focused on making smart health insurance choices. Watch for more information as fall draws near.

In the meantime, keep these facts in mind as you plan:

1.) Many Americans who have health insurance through an employer or through a government program (Medicare, Tri-care, Veteran's benefits, etc) will not need to make any changes.

2.) Nearly all Americans will be required to have health insurance coverage, so those who are currently uninsured may have the greatest need to explore options.

3) For most low-middle income families, financial help will make health coverage more affordable in some cases, free.

4) If your cost for health insurance would exceed 8 percent of your income, you will not be penalized if you do not carry insurance. There are other exceptions as well.

5) Iowa's Health Exchange opens October 1 and stays open beyond the end of the year. This is the marketplace where you can compare policies and find out what assistance you can receive in paying for health insurance. It is best to wait to make any health insurance decisions until you have had a chance to check out the Exchange in the fall.

Health insurance is an important decision for you and your family, so take your time to make a smart choice for you.

For more information on this and other personal finance topics, go to www.extension.org or www.extension.iastate.edu/finances, or contact me through your local office of ISU Extension (Webster County: 576-2119) or directly at 832-9597 or bwollan@iastate.edu.

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