This seems timely, especially since I’m now promoting eHealthInsurance at the top of my blog.

CNN recently did a news story on people who have been scammed by fake insurance plans. In these cases, people who were in dire health straits would look on the internet, find someone purporting to cover a certain area of the country, most probably the area where the people lived, signed up, started paying premiums, then when they finally had to go see a doctor came up empty. Not only no coverage, but no one had ever heard of them. Money gone, contract canceled, can’t talk to anyone; you’ve just been scammed.

I’m particularly sensitive to health care, as, in my main career, I am a health care consultant in the financial area, and even wrote my own idea for a health plan for America; no, the calls didn’t come. I hate seeing people get ripped off, and I hate that people still don’t seem to understand how to protect themselves when it comes to their financial needs concerning health care.

I can’t take care of everyone immediately, but I can offer some tips right now on how to protect yourself when you’re looking for insurance, or dealing with insurance companies.

First, no matter what insurance you have, whether you pay for it individually or belong to an insurance plan through your employer, your first step is always to contact your doctor, or the doctor you want to visit, to see if they accept your insurance, or participate with your insurance plan. These are two terms that pretty much mean the same thing. This says that they will bill your insurance for you, will accept payment from the insurance company, along with any adjustments they’ve previously agreed to, and will only bill you for the amount agreed upon with the insurance company.

Second, after you’ve checked with the doctor’s office on participation, call the insurance company to find out whether you need an authorization or not. Some insurance companies are sneaky like that; they say they cover something, then after you go to the doctor they say you were supposed to get an authorization up front. No matter what it is, verify this.

Third, with these “off brand” plans, make sure that what they’re not telling you is that you have to pay your doctor, then send the bill to them for them to pay you. This isn’t sneaky at all if they tell you up front, and it’s more to help you defer the costs of your medical bills than actually totally covering you like traditional health care insurance.

Fourth, and this should be a no-brainer, with any of these insurance companies that say they participate with all these physicians, ask them for a list up front before you pay them a single cent. If they say you have to sign up first, don’t do it. If they say “all of them”, don’t do it. If they say “covered in full” for everything, don’t do it. That’s just not how insurance works.

Fifth, and the most important piece, read everything you received. I mean it, from the first word down to the fine print, read everything. Don’t sign it until you do my first recommendation, but read everything. Even with eHealthInsurance above, which is more about finding insurance plans for you than having them as your insurance agent. Anyone they connect you with, read everything, get an understanding of how your medical claims are supposed to be processed, talk to your doctor, then decide how you want to proceed.

Your peace of mind will be priceless.

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