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‘An Arm and a Leg’: Shopping for Health Insurance? Here’s How One Family Tried to Pick a Plan

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When host Dan Weissmann and his wife set out to pick a health insurance plan for next year, they realized that keeping the plan they have means paying $200 a month more. But would a “cheaper” plan cost them more in the long run?  It depends. And the COVID pandemic makes their choice a lot more complicated.

After trying to puzzle it out, Weissmann debriefs with Karen Pollitz, a health insurance expert at KFF, who knows about the angst of medical bills from personal experience.

Health insurance can be painful, but the alternative ― not having health insurance ― is so much worse. If you want to go deeper on health insurance, you might want to check out these episodes from the first season of the podcast:

  • In “Why You (and I) Will Likely Pick the Wrong Health Insurance,” we learn: Smart economists have proved it’s actually super hard — even they aren’t sure they’ll pick correctly.
  • In an episode inspired by KHN reporter Jenny Gold, we learn about insurance companies’ price-gouging. And often we end up paying the price.
  • In the first-ever episode of this show, Weissmann’s family confronts the big puzzle: Can we even get insurance that’ll work for us?
  • In “A ‘Deal’ on Health Insurance Comes With Troubling Strings,” we go on a journey with a kinda-famous “financial therapist” who says she gets rattled when it comes to picking health insurance. And she’s pretty uncomfortable — morally, personally — with some of the choices she’s made. (Also, Weissmann’s family makes another cameo.)

And here are some other helpful big-picture takes:

Want to go a lot deeper? Especially if you’re actually looking at buying health insurance, maybe on the Obamacare exchange?

Weissmann found healthcare.gov to be super usable this year, way better than the last time he checked.

“I punched in the answers to a few questions, and got to quickly tell it which doctors our family sees (and what meds we take) … and it provided a clear list that showed which plans cover our docs, how much they would cost us, etc.,” he said.

  • Subsidies are available for Affordable Care Act plans. KFF has this explanation of how they work. It’s a slog, but thorough. Print it out, grab a snack and settle in. This bit of research explains that a lot of people qualify for a plan with no premium. (KHN, which co-produces “An Arm and a Leg,” is an editorially independent program of KFF.)
  • KFF has a whole database of frequently asked questions about the ACA. Hundreds of Q’s and A’s, including 180-plus in Spanish.
  • Also great, also very thorough: The Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms has a whole site full of resources for navigating the ACA. (It’s actually for “navigators” — folks who help civilians understand the sign-up process.)

That’s a lot, right? Picking a plan can be overwhelming. But don’t let it get you down.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

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This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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