If you’re covered by a health plan, you’ve probably encountered the words deductible, co-pay, and co-insurance a number of times when examining your bills, paying your doctor for a visit, or simply looking at the benefits package from your employer. These terms can be a bit confusing, and with all of the limits, maximums, and different coverage options, it is important to understand what they mean so you can obtain the best coverage for the right price.
When looking at your health insurance options, it’s important to go beyond the premium. The premium is the amount you pay each paycheck or month just to have the coverage. Obviously, you want the lowest premium you can get for the coverage you want, but you really need to look beyond that. Saving $20 a month on your insurance premium may end up costing you hundreds of dollars in co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses. So, let’s take a look at how you can make sense of all these terms.
Defining the Terms
This is probably the most straightforward, and easiest ways to change the premium on your policy. The deductible is the amount that you need to pay for a claim before the insurance kicks in. If you have a $50 deductible and you are billed for $500 in services, you’d need to pay $50 out of pocket before the remainder is sent off to the insurance company.
Obviously, the higher the deductible you choose, the lower your premium will be since you’ll be covering more of the expenses out of pocket. So, you have to be careful. If you choose a high deductible in an effort to keep premium costs down, a period of poor health or unexpected medical treatments could add up quickly.
Don’t forget the maximums. Deductibles usually have an annual maximum, for both individuals and families. When comparing plans or options within your plan, determine how likely it would be that you’d reach those maximums, and if two plans have different maximums, think about which one provides the best cost-to-benefit ratio.
Co-pay and Co-insurance
The co-pay is probably another common term you’ve heard, and have probably paid a number of times without thinking much of it. Co-pay and co-insurance are basically the same thing, but cover different items. In either case, this is the amount of money you have to pay for a claim or service rendered. The difference is that a co-pay is typically a flat dollar amount for a specific item such as an office visit, exam, or prescription. Co-insurance is typically based on a percentage. This means that you’re responsible for a certain percentage of a claim, and the insurance provider is responsible for the rest.
Again, when comparing plans, the co-pay amount or co-insurance percentage can play a big role in how much your premium is. A plan with an 80/20 co-insurance (insurance company pays 80%, you pay 20%) will have a higher premium than a 50/50 plan, and so on.
Compare All the Numbers
So, when you’re exploring your health insurance options, it pays to look at more than the premium. While the premium directly affects your bottom line, saving a few dollars on the premium could cost you much more in the long run, and paying a higher premium for coverage you might not need may also cost an unnecessary bundle.
This is especially important if you have a certain condition that requires specific tests or drugs, or if you are planning on having a baby, as the amount of coverage provided for these items may require digging a little deeper than glancing at your premium. So, take the time to completely understand your health benefits, and you can be sure that you’re getting as much coverage as you need, and paying no more than you have to.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.