Helping Patients Choose the Right Health-Insurance Plan

It's open-enrollment season, and one reader wants to know which online resources he should recommend to his patients to help them choose the right health insurance plan.

Q: Which websites can you recommend to help my patients choose the best healthcare plan during open enrollment season?A: Every year around this time, many employers offer their workers the chance to change their health insurance coverage. At the same time, the federal government also gives Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to choose or change their Medicare plan.

This can put patients face-to-face with an overwhelming array of options and often they turn to their doctors for advice. Although you may not be a health-insurance expert, you can guide them to sources where they can find help in making their choices.

For Medicare patients, the open enrollment period runs from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31. Participants’ primary source of information on the choices available is Medicare.gov, the official website for the Medicare program. The site provides advice to Medicare beneficiaries and, just as important, allows them to search for and compare the Medicare plans and drug coverage plans. The comparisons include projected annual costs for the various options, as well as a basic outline of the coverage available. Consumers can get more details by clicking on the individual plans in the comparison chart.

Patients who are faced with choosing from an employer’s menu of health plans may have more options, which can make the task even more confusing. Some workers may only have one choice, but others, especially those who work for larger companies, may face an alphabet soup of HMO, PPO, HSA, and more. One of the best sources for advice is this article from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The article contains brief descriptions of the various types of coverage, along with advice on how to sort through them to make intelligent choices.

The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute also offers this guide, which includes information on healthcare insurance along with a glossary and a list of additional resources.

HAVE A QUESTION FOR "ASK THE EXPERT"? Email Terri Cullen at tcullen@hcplive.com.