Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tools to help estimate the costs of medical procedures

Nationally, a number of consumer groups and government agencies have put together tools to try to make it easier to estimate the costs of a medical procedure before you have it. Among them:

Healthcare Blue Book, which describes itself as a "free consumer guide to help you determine fair prices in your area for healthcare services.

Fair Health Consumer Cost Lookup, an "independent, not-for-profit corporation whose mission is to bring transparency to healthcare costs and health insurance information."

If you're comfortable with Excel, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have also pulled together a lot of pricing data on the 100 most common inpatient services and 30 common outpatient services.

So what do you do if you're uninsured and are facing huge bills for a needed procedure? See our "can't afford health coverage" web page, which lists:






"Am I eligible for a subsidy to help pay for health insurance?"

As a result of the health care reform law, you might qualify for a health premium tax credit -- often referred to as subsidies -- that you could use to reduce your monthly health insurance premiums, reduce the amount of taxes you owe, or both.

Here’s a calculator that will show whether you’ll qualify for the tax credit. (Note: If your employer offers what is deemed affordable coverage -- meaning that the employee's coverage to cover him- or herself costs less than 9.5 percent of income -- you aren't eligible for the Exchange.)

If you are eligible for the tax credit, then you’ll need to decide whether you want to receive it. If yes, then you’ll need to buy your health insurance through the Exchange, also known as the WashingtonHealthplanfinder.

Health insurance plans will be available on the Exchange website starting this fall, and you can enroll in Exchange plans from 10/1/13 through 3/31/14. Plans will start as early as 1/1/14, depending on the date that you enroll.

If you’re eligible for the health premium tax credit, you can receive it by:

• Taking the tax credit in advance, which will reduce your monthly premiums;
• Using the tax credit later, when you file taxes, to reduce the amount you owe in taxes for that year; or
• Taking part of the tax credit in advance to reduce your monthly premiums, and using the rest later to reduce the amount you owe in taxes for that year.

At the time that you sign up for a health plan through the Exchange, you’ll need to tell the Exchange how you want to take your tax credit.

There’s nothing that you need to do right now; just be aware that if you qualify for and want to take the tax credit, you’ll need to sign up for a health plan through the Exchange between October and March.

For more, please see our "Health care reform -- what it means to you" page.