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Shopping for Health Insurance in the Digital Age

By Edward Oberg

With the introduction of legislation such as Obama Care, The Affordable Care Act, and even DOMA, the world of insurance is in flux and shopping for a new policy is more confusing than ever. This leaves those who remain uninsured and those who have found themselves underinsured with the newly imposed restrictions in quite a quandary. Despite the plethora of new questions these changes pose, luckily there are answers to be had.

With the introduction of these government programs come stricter regulations for insurance companies. While this may cause headaches for insurance execs everywhere, luckily it provides some benefits for consumers. Insurance companies are now obliged to participate in the government’s healthcare marketplace. What this means is that all insurance providers in a given state are now required to participate in the exchange, where their rates, coverage, and premiums can be compared side by side. The downside for some seniors is that much of this comparison shopping is done online. Really, though, choosing you insurance on the Internet isn’t that different from a paper application. If you’ve ever filled out your own tax forms by hand, you are more than qualified for shopping on the exchange, which is an easy way to explore your options, supplement your Medicare of Medigap plan, and get income-based rates. All of this happens if 4 easy steps:

1)    Create an account: Go to the exchange marketplace and select your state from the dropdown menu. The state in which you qualify for insurance should be the same as your primary residence and/or where you earn the majority of your income. (It is possible to be eligible in more than one state).Then click the button that says "apply online". From there, you will be asked to create a user name, password, and security question.

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You may run into issues with it saying that someone else has your username already or your password is not secure. If this happens with the username, simply try a new one or try adding some numbers on the end, for example, GrandpaTom24. In the case of the password, some require a capital letter and/or some symbols (!@#$% etc.) or numbers.

2)    Fillout the application: The application is rather simple and only requires enough information to give you accurate quotes. These fields include information regarding the size of your family (those who would be covered), income, current coverage, and a few more items. You may need to have a recent W2 or tax return in front of you if you are unable to estimate these values accurrately. At any point, and particularly if you have questions about multiple tax returns or other technical questions, you can call a help line (1-800-318-2596). Help should be available 24/7 to guide you in making sure everything is filled out and processed correctly.

3)    Evaluate your choices: Once you have navigated your application, you are presented with a variety of options for your coverage. It may make sense to continue with your current employer or Medicare coverage. However, you may find that you could benefit from alternative or supplemental coverage for your unique healthcare needs. These application results are a great place to start. You will have the ability to view all of the subsidized options, special offers, private programs, costs, and benefits in one easy location. You will find that many companies offer discounts for seniors. Being a member of AARP is a good way to get lower quotes on health insurance. This can also save you money on automobile and home insurance through providers such as The Hartford, who partner with AARP.

4)    Choose the plan for you: When you apply online, you’ll follow a 4-step process:

a.    Compare your options. You'll be able to see all the options you qualify for, including private insurance plans and free and low-cost coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Marketplace will tell you if you qualify for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs on private insurance. You’ll see details on costs and benefits to help you choose a plan that’s right for you.

b.    Enroll. After you choose a plan, you can enroll online and decide how you pay your premiums to your insurance company. You must pay your premium by the date the insurer provides before your coverage can begin. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014. If you or a member of your family qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, a representative will contact you to enroll.

Edward Oberg writes frequesntly for The Hartford.