Are Some Things Non-Negotiable?

Health insurance is expensive these days any way you look at it.  There’s no way of getting around the fact that you’re going to pay more for health care than you did even a few years ago.

I’ve seen a lot of advice on how to save money on health care costs to counter-act some of these rising costs.  One of the items that shows up on almost every list is to negotiate your bill.  In other words, try to get the doctor’s office to accept less than what they bill you for.

This sounds great, but I’m wondering how effective it really is.

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In most cases when you have insurance, the provider bills at their standard rate, but agrees to take less of a rate when they participate with an insurance provider.  The mindset behind this is that by participating in a plan, they’ll ensure themselves business by offering their services to the insurance companies subscriber base.

Using a recent example, my wife had an epidural for her recent delivery of our second child.  The anesthesiologists standard billing was around $1,300.  But, the negotiated rate for that service was around $550, meaning that they had to essentially write off $750.  Our plan calls for a 10% co-pay, so the insurance company sent them a check for $495 and we had to cover the remaining $55.

It seems to me that they are not going negotiate with me on that $55 because they, in essence, have already been negotiated with by the insurance plan.

I can see trying to work with them had they been an out-of-network provider that we wanted to work with, in which case there would have been no negotiated rate and no pay-out by the insurance company.  In that case, we would have received a bill for the entire $1,300 and I could see them working with someone in that situation.  But not in our situation.

Am I off here or should I be trying to negotiate even these co-pays?  Has anybody had any success negotiating with their providers and if so, what was your insurance situation?

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Insurance Can Be Complicated, But Only If You Let It Be

Insurance is one of those things that you don’t want but that you have to have.

Whether it be car insurance, life insurance, or property insurance, it’s important to make sure that you’re properly covered.  Part of this means to make sure that you’re getting the best coverage at the lowest rates.

One of the things I’ve heard about insurance is that you should shop all of your insurance around once per year.  I’ve seen other bloggers go so far as to schedule a personal day off of work to spend exclusively on their insurance.

So, it’s a pretty big deal!

I don’t go that far to review our insurance, but staying on top of costs and coverage are activities I definitely go through.  Here’s a few things that I do:

Talk to my agent regularly

We have our homeowners insurance and auto insurance through the same company (using one provider for multiple policies is an almost sure-fire way to save money).  We’ve used the same agency for over 10 years.  And, I keep in touch with my agent regularly so much that he and his assistant know (or do a really good job at pretending to know) me when I call.

Know the lingo

As such, my agent looks out for me but I also look out for myself.  When I get a policy renewal notice, I always compare every line to see the cost difference in what I’m paying versus what I’ve paid in the past.  I also make sure to understand what each item actually means.  That way, if I call somewhere else to get a car insurance quote, I can make sure that I’m truly getting a side-by-side comparison quote.

It’s also important to know what your coverage is so that you can make changes to the default coverage.  For two years after we bought our home, I had default coverage limits on many items.  When I took a closer look, I realized that I was uncomfortable with some of the coverage limits, and made adjustments, but it was only by researching what each item meant, that I was able to do so effectively.

Use every available option

We don’t have life insurance coverage through the same agency as our homeowners and auto policy.  We don’t have coverage through any agency, in fact.

You might say, “Beagle, how can you not have life insurance?  What if something were to happen to you?  After all you do have a wife and two kids.  What would happen to them?’

And my response would be: They’d be covered.

See, we don’t have life insurance through an agency simply because we have it through my employer.

My employer offers life insurance as a payroll withdrawl for up to 10x my salary.  They also offer coverage for my spouse and even small amounts for children.

I use this versus an agency because the price is virtually  unbeatable.  Last year, I called my agency and requested a quote compared to what I can get through my employer, and the best they could come up with was double the cost of what I pay now via payroll deductions.

If you have alternative options to get coverage, make sure you look into them.

I’m very comfortable with my level of coverage, but this also comes from having a good knowledge of what I have.  So, don’t let your insurance befuddle you.  Not knowing and understanding your coverage and your options is an almost guaranteed way to get caught holding the bag, most likely at a time when you can least afford to do so.

How comfortable are you with your insurance coverage?

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I Can’t Believe Open Enrollment Will Be Soon

In a sign of how quickly the year is going by, we got an announcement about the open enrollment period for 2012 insurance.   They haven’t announced a date but they did announce some good news, and that’s that they are freezing premiums and co-pays (and in some cases, even lowering the co-pays) for next year.  They also said they will be lowering out of pocket maximums.

That’s definitely great news.  Last year saw a huge increase, though, way above market average, so honestly, this years freeze will probably just level things out to where they ought to be anyways.

We had considered going with an High Deductible Plan in 2011, but because we knew we were having a baby and the associated costs with that, we opted for the more traditional plan, which had higher premiums but also paid out more and had low deductibles.  If we anticipate that our medical needs will be lower in 2011, this could be a good way to go, especially depending on what they come out with for the out-of-pocket maximums.

I’ll keep you updated when the actual info comes out, but that is a welcome bit of good news (now, we just have to see if there will be any raises!).

How are things shaping up for your 2012 insurance enrollment?

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Does Your Insurance Agent Make A Difference?

I never really gave much thought to who my insurance agent was.  I have been with Allstate since 1996 when my parents booted me off their plan following my college graduation.  At the time, they were the cheapest I could find with a company name I trusted.

They’ve provided good service and when I’ve comparison shopped my policies a couple times since, I’ve never found a deal convincing enough to leave.

When I first signed up, I was assigned an agent that was most likely closest to where I lived.  At some point when I was living in my condo in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, I got a letter stating that the agent I was with had retired and I was being assigned to a new agent that was the closest to where I lived.

Whatever, right?

I then got another letter from the new agent welcoming me as a customer.  More whatever, right?  They were all about looking out for my needs and what seemed standard stuff you put in a letter to make sure your new customer doesn’t jump ship.

Except it wasn’t just talk.  This agent has actually looked out for me over the years.

He calls me just to check in.  He sat down and reviewed our policy line by line when we added my wife to the policy around when we got married and again when we moved into our house.  When I call with any questions, both him and the lady that does the ‘grunt work’ both know me by name.

Even though we moved about fifteen miles away, we still stuck with that agent because I felt that they really were actually looking out for us.

Recently, though, they really blew me away.

I got a call from the agent. He was obviously excited about something, so much that I thought he was calling to tell me that he had just finished a marathon or something (which, even though we’re friendly, would have been odd).  But, as it turns out, he had proactively looked at our auto and homeowners policy, ran some numbers, and found that we could increase our coverage without paying more.

Wait, not just avoid paying more, but save roughly 15%.

By adding an umbrella policy over the top of our auto and home policies, we could reduce the liability coverage on those two policies, dropping them in cost substantially, but add it back in and then some with the umbrella policy.  The coverage stays the same.  All the deductibles stay the same.  Our liability coverage actually works in our favor.  The only changes are that we have three policies to pay instead of two and that the total amount over a year will be 15% less than what we paid last year.

Pretty cool, huh.  I did all the research I could.  I reviewed every line on the policies to make sure I wasn’t missing something or setting myself up for a fall later.  So far as I can tell, it’s all on the level!

The 15% stuck out in my head as memorable because of the ‘Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more’ tagline from Geico.  Turns out, with Allstate, I didn’t even have to spend the fifteen minutes.  My agent did, and I still got the savings.

It’s pretty hard to beat that!

Have you ever had a company go out of their way to save you money when they probably didn’t have to?

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