The Retirement Corporation of America

Making Sure Your Health Is Insured

YOU SHOULD HAVE at least $1 million of health insurance—routine health and major medical—per person over your lifetime. If it sounds like a lot, consider just how costly just one long-term illness could be given soaring medical costs.

You may already have that level of coverage at work. Two-thirds of all group plans provide it. If you haven't already checked with your benefits people on that point, talk to them now. If you have health insurance from other sources, the combined total may come up to what you need. That other coverage might come because you're covered by a spouse's group plan where he or she works. Or you may have purchased individual health coverage on your own.

But most people rely on group plans for their health insurance. And these days, most of those plans are Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). More than 150 million Americans now belong to them. Magazines and newspapers periodically publish HMO rankings in consumer-satisfaction surveys. There are also a number of ways you can find out yourself how your plan—whether it's an HMO or other type of plan—stacks up compared with others around the country.

Give Your Health Plan a Check-Up

One way to get a report card on your plan is to visit a website called Health Pages (www.thehealthpages.com). There you can see how good your coverage is in the opinion of thousands of physicians across the country. Another website operated by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (www.jcaho.org), a nonprofit group, also measures health plan performance.

Buying Health Coverage on Your Own

The cost of buying individual health insurance can be stunning. Nonetheless, don't go without protection if you don't have a group plan. Here are some tips for keeping the cost down:

•  Try first to get it through an organization, perhaps a college alumni association, religious or professional trade group.

•  Shop around. The premiums for the same coverage can vary by as much as 50% from different insurers.

•  See if your bank, insurance company or brokerage firm offers a Medical Savings Account (MSA) program. This is a fairly new federal program for the self-employed and for employees of smaller businesses. You contribute money to the MSA, either in a lump sum or throughout the year. All contributions are 100% tax deductible. All medical expenses during the year are paid by withdrawing money from the MSA. Any money left in your MSA at the end of the year is carried over to the following year—earning interest while it is in the account.