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By CLAUDIA BUCK
Buying health insurance is no one's idea of fun. But for many folks, it's a necessity.
One of those is 60-year-old Nancy Thompson of Camino, Calif., who lost her shipping-office job last year. This month, the COBRA health coverage from her former employer ran out.
Determined to stay covered, she went shopping for health insurance online and found it an unpleasant experience.
Using one of the many comparison sites for health insurance, she started filling out her online application.
"It was overwhelming," Thompson said. "There were so many questions, and I started feeling uncomfortable. I didn't even finish filling it out."
But e-mails, phone calls and letters started arriving from brokers and agents eager to sign her up. Frustrated, she opted to buy a $541-a-month Aetna policy from an insurance broker who came to her home. (Her husband, who is retired, has his own health coverage through Medicare.)
"It can be a very onerous process," said Sam Gibbs, senior vice president of eHealthinsurance.com, a California-based online insurance website. "You have to fill out extensive medical questionnaires about doctor visits, prescriptions. It takes some time and throws a lot of people off."
Many people qualify for a policy instantly, he said, but for those with complicated medical histories, "it can take weeks to get an answer back."
Despite the difficulties, most people can't risk going without insurance. Here's a rundown on some ways to look for a plan.
TRY THE GROUP
Group plans usually offer the most affordable premiums. Pursue coverage offered by your employer, spouse, college alumni, professional or other membership group, such as AARP.
Sites like ehealthinsurance .com or myinsuranceexpert .com let you sort plans by deductible, premium price and other criteria.
Pay attention to what's covered. The policy with the lowest premium, for instance, may carry a high deductible--the amount you spend out of pocket before insurance starts paying. And it may not include much, if any, coverage for prescriptions and hospital stays.
Starting in September, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Premium rates are still under discussion and will vary, depending on age and region. For more details, go to hhs.gov/ociio/initiative/hi_risk_pool_facts.html.
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