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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From three different insurers: Overlapping insurance coverage

Today we received another health insurance card in the mail for my 19-year-old son, and I realized that he'll have insurance coverage from three different insurers during a two-week period in late August.

This is no one's mistake: each is valid. Between the end of his year-long AmeriCorps service and the start of college is a gap of almost four weeks in July and August. So we got interim coverage through the Massachusetts Connector, with Harvard Pilgrim. His coverage through the college's health service starts in mid-August. And my wife's policy, through her employer, covers our family, including him, resuming in mid-August when he leaves for college.

Screwy, too, is the huge variation in the cost of the policies, of more than three orders of magnitude! There is no additional cost to us of the policy through my wife's employer; it's free. The college’s health service coverage costs $20/month. The Harvard Pilgrim plan costs us $143 a month. In the competitive U.S. market economy, it's hard to imagine any other product whose prices vary by three or more orders of magnitude.

(Incidentally, we had to buy the Harvard Pilgrim coverage for more than twice as long as needed, and pay double, because they require coverage to start at the start of the calendar month and end at month's end. That required us to duplicate my son's coverage in early July and late August. And they're a nonprofit!)

As I write this, I'm in the waiting room of my son's doctor's office, while Neil gets his physical. Annual physical exams are recommended at his age, and his college requires it. I've just had to pay a $25 copayment. Let's see, the purpose of the copayment is to discourage unnecessary use, and make consumers cost-conscious. I'm conscious, all right, though these prices are almost knocking me out!

So while many millions of Americans are uninsured, or under-insured, my son is, because of the system's requirements, briefly triply insured, at our expense. Single payer insurance, anyone?

Advice: Don't try to figure out health care insurance costs; it'll only give you a headache.

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