Minimizing Healthcare Costs By Maximizing First Dollar Coverage

A study released in late 2007 indicates that a majority of high deductible health plans that are compatible with health savings accounts (HSAs) are footing the bill for preventative care.

Gas is hovering near $5 a gallon and a loaf of bread costs $2.50. There's no question that everyone's feeling the pinch of a rising cost of living. If you need to cut back on your spending, you might look to your high deductible health plan (HDHP) as a source for savings.

Survey says-get vaccinated

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a study in December, 2007 indicating that a majority of HSA-qualified HDHP policies offer first dollar coverage for many preventative care procedures. AHIP is a healthcare trade association that serves a membership of about 1,300 insurance providers.

HDHP policies feature low premiums and high deductibles, an economical combination for healthy individuals who don't require frequent doctor visits. These policies have another advantage, as well; they can be coupled with a tax-advantaged HSA to reduce healthcare costs even further. In fact, you can't use an HSA unless you have a qualifying HDHP policy. In 2008, the minimum deductibles allowed on qualifying plans are $1,100 for a single insured, and $2,200 for the family. Maximum out-of-pocket costs are $5,600 for an individual, and $11,200 for a family.

Most HDHP/HSA-insured families hope to avoid meeting those big, out-of-pocket deductibles. Naturally, these people are careful about when they go to the doctor and why; if the annual deductible hasn't been met, they may put off preventative visits and procedures, such as vaccinations, just to avoid paying the bill. The out-of-pocket costs associated with a series of Gardasil vaccinations, for example, can be several hundred dollars.

Recognizing that skipping on vaccinations and other preventative services can lead to much bigger health problems, insurance companies are taking action. So-called first dollar coverage on preventative care essentially waives the insured's deductible for a specified set of such services. Services covered typically include those related to immunizations, well-baby care, well-woman care, and annual physicals.

By the numbers

The AHIP study concluded that 84 percent of HDHP/HSA plans offer first dollar coverage for preventative care. Breaking this down further, 99 percent of large group plans, and 96 percent of small group plans, pay for these procedures. The percentage of individual policies providing this coverage is much lower, at 59 percent.

If you're covered by an employer's HDHP/HSA plan, it's likely that you already have first dollar coverage on preventative care. On the other hand, if you have an individual HDHP/HSA health plan, there's a decent chance that you don't currently have this type of coverage. Check with your provider and, if necessary, start comparison shopping for a plan that encourages you to take care of yourself. Juggling high gas and food prices is enough to worry about-you shouldn't have to stress about paying for your kid's immunizations, too.

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