Changes ahead for insurance consumer

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Q: Where can I find information on buying a health insurance plan if I don't have one at work?

A: Because health insurance is administered differently in each state, a good starting place to find more information is the health or insurance department for the state where you live.

Some states offer programs to the uninsured, allowing individuals or families with limited income to purchase their own plan. Alternatively, individual or family plans are offered at market rates through a number of national and regional carriers.

Those looking for individual and family plans can also start their research at Web sites such as www.healthdecisions.org and www.healthinsuranceinfo.net/.

Those who buy health insurance on their own tend to be relatively price sensitive since they absorb the entire cost of the plan themselves. Premiums vary by state and risk profile. A 2004 survey by the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans shows that individual annual premiums ranged from $1,885 in California to $6,048 in New Jersey.

Ninety-four percent of the individual policies sold were on average less than $3,000. Nationwide, the survey showed annual premiums on average were $2,268 for individuals and $4,424 for families.

New York-based nonprofit the Freelancers Union, which offers disability and life insurance to members around the nation, plans to offer health insurance in states with the greater demand. Now, only members in New York can buy health insurance.

Other organizations that offer health insurance options include AllFreelance.com, the National Association for the Self-Employed and the National Writers Union.

Change is coming that might affect how not only freelance workers but also full-time employees, buy health insurance.

Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz said the rising cost of health insurance is contributing to the decline of the employer-sponsored system for health care. She predicts that a growing number of individuals will begin buying their own plans, leading to a "quintessential David and Goliath" problem where consumers have no buying power and no ombudsman to help them navigate their medical claims.

That, she said, will lead to a reinvention of how we buy health insurance, with people grouping themselves together to increase their negotiating power and fund health advocates who help negotiate the claims process.

"I think we're going to see a rise in these services over time," Ms. Horowitz said.

ON THE NET

- www.healthdecisions.org

- www.healthinsurance info.net

- www.ahip.org/

- www.freelancersunion.org/

- www.nwuhealth.org/


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