Health Care Resources

In recent years, health care costs have risen and access to affordable employer-based health care plans has fallen. In response, Americans have increasingly educated themselves on how to select the best  health insurance for their needs.

By braiding private insurance, subsidized Affordable Care Act plans and public low-income health care options such as Medicare, many families have been able to build adequate coverage within their price ranges.

Consumers have also turned more heavily to non-insurance health care tools and resources to help them manage rising costs. In addition to joining non-insurance discount programs, families are adopting lifestyle changes that reduce their health risks and need for care. They are eating healthier meals, changing their exercise habits and taking new approaches to routine health challenges such as seasonal allergies. Familiarizing themselves with these trends and best practices can prepare families to leverage these same tools to their own benefits.

Choosing the Best Health Insurance

The first step to selecting the best plan for one’s family is to acquaint oneself with key health insurance terminology. Understanding the official definitions of crucial terms such as deductible, copayment, provider and network allows consumers to determine exactly what each plan offers and withholds. It allows families to accurately compare and contrast similar plans to determine which ones meet their needs. In most cases, consumers can reach out to their employers’ Human Resources divisions, policy brokers, community health navigators and other experts to assist them in understanding and applying healthcare terms.

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The second step in finding family health insurance is assessing family members’ needs and eligibility.  In some cases, traditional family health plans can be the most effective way of meeting a household’s medical insurance needs. In cases where some members of the family qualify for benefits that others do not or have special needs, individualized health plans may be a better option. For example, children in a household may qualify for coverage under CHIP and an adult with disabilities may be eligible for Medicare. In those cases, it may be most cost effective for families to enroll eligible members in the subsidized plans and buy coverage only for the remaining members of the household.

Differentiating Between Plan Types

To minimize costs and attract consumers, insurers now offer an unprecedented variety of health insurance plans. Among the most common types of plans are:

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO)
  • Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO)
  • Point of Service plans (POS)
  • Exclusive Provider Organizations (EPO)
  • High Deductible Health plans (HDHP)

Although many health insurance plans appear similar at first glance, they often contain vital differences that have outsized impacts on families’ access to care. Families should explore common and important differences such as:

  • The cost and availability of in-network vs. out-of-network care.
  • The size and range of plans’ networks.
  • Deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket cost rules.
  • Primary Care Provider requirements.

Taking the extra time to identify the differences between plans can significant help families save money on health care costs over the course of a year.

Subsidized and Low-Cost Health Insurance Plans

Families with moderate, low or very low household incomes may qualify for subsidized Affordable Care Act health insurance plans. Low income seniors or adults with disabilities may be eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, as well. Military veterans and their families may be able to enroll in VA health insurance for little or no cost.

Heads of household can determine what subsidized care plans they are eligible for through their states’ healthcare marketplaces. Applicants living in states that do not maintain their own marketplaces can use the national Obamacare marketplace to explore their options. The marketplace system will direct users to provide basic income and identifying information, and then list the various plans for which they are eligible. If users qualify for Medicare or other government-funded plans, they will receive instructions on how to apply.

Discount Programs and Cost Cutting Measures

Switching from brand-name medications to equivalent generic drugs can cut families’ health care bills dramatically. Generic medicines are just as safe and effective as branded drugs, and cost significantly less. Families can further reduce the amount of money they spend on medications by enrolling in prescription discount card programs and using pharmacy discount apps. These tools are often free and can help consumers reduce medication costs by more than 75 percent.

Exercise, Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips and Tricks

Research consistently demonstrates that some of the most powerful ways to reduce health care costs at the personal and national levels involve simple lifestyle changes. Key recommendations include:

  • Daily exercise. Regular, low-intensity exercise can substantially improve Americans’ physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Balanced diet. Diets low in unhealthy fats and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins form the basis of a healthy body. Cooking and eating together as a family can offer additional benefits.

Proactively managing recurring or chronic conditions, such as diabetes, allergies and lower back pain can also play an essential role in avoiding serious and expensive medical incidents. Healthy eating and appropriate exercise can assist families in managing diabetes and reducing the likelihood of injury. Following these health tips and more, can improve a families overall wellness.

Special Considerations for Seniors

Healthy aging is a key concern for seniors and their families. There are many factors to be considered when planning how to age well or how to support family members as they age. In addition to the universal diet and exercise guidelines that apply to all adults, seniors have unique nutrition and lifestyle needs. Healthy aging for seniors must also include regular activity and positive social connections.

At the same time, seniors must take precautions to remain safe and healthy while engaging with others. Seniors’ immune systems may not be as strong as those of younger adults. It is important, therefore, that they consult their physicians about the best vaccines for older adults of their health and activity levels. Most seniors are recommended to routinely get vaccinated for at least the flu and pneumonia.

Seniors 65 years of age or older typically qualify for coverage under Medicaid and Medicare. They can layer this coverage with any other public or private coverage for which they qualify. While not all seniors will need to dual or multiple enroll, most will benefit from carefully comparing their options to ensure that all senior health options are accounted for under one plan or another.

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