As our economy sputters along, the issue of health care has become a real headache. With the cost of health insurance on the rise amid a general push towards bootstrapping and business restructuring, businesses big and small are struggling to provide a decent plan for their employees, and those who have recently lost their jobs are coming to terms with the fact that they have lost their health benefits as well.

While health care reform is desperately needed, the appropriate change will have to be drastic and extensive involving many players such as the Federal Government, the health insurance industry, health care providers, and major hospitals. And the painful truth is that such change may be very far off.

In the mean time, there are several ways that you can cut your health insurance costs for yourself and your employees without giving up your coverage. Here are a few tips:

1. Be an informed consumer. Whether shopping for the lowest health insurance rates or looking up medical and hospital information, doing your research before making decisions can increase your chances of lowering your health care costs. To get several quotes online, check out eHealthInsurance.

2. Rely on the coverage of your employed spouse. An independent small business owner may have the option of employing his or her spouse. Certain medical expenses, such as premium costs, co-pays, and prescription drugs, can then be claimed as tax deductible under a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

3. Lower your level of health insurance coverage. By increasing your plan’s deductible amount, your monthly premiums will be lower, and the savings in monthly premiums could end up being more than what you spend out of your pocket. But keep in mind that for this option to work you should be basically healthy, and be careful that the out-of-pocket expenses are small enough for you and your employees to handle.

4. Set up a health savings account (HSA). An HSA is tax-free savings accounts for medical expenses. Both employees and employers can contribute to the account, and it must be coupled with a high-deductible health plan. With this method, the policy holder gets the necessary insurance coverage, while the HSA provides the means to fund the additional out-of-pocket costs on a pretax basis. The money in HSA can be carried over from year to year, and it is portable.

5. Offer a flexible spending account (FSA). A FSA allows you and your employees to set aside pretax dollars through payroll deduction to pay for eligible medical expenses. Unlike the HSA, however, the funds in this account do not carry over.

6. Live a healthy lifestyle. Seek free or low-cost advice on maintaining a healthy diet and following an exercise plan. Encourage your employees to attend wellness seminars and to avoid or reduce unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Take advantage of free health screenings at local clinics, hospitals or health fairs. In the end you will feel better, and that could mean fewer trips to the doctor.

7. Join a discount health benefits program. For a small fee these programs offer savings on prescription drugs, dental visits and other health services by connecting members with affiliated doctors, dentists, and health centers. In this way, a health benefits program can fill in any gaps in coverage from your existing health insurance policy.

8. Enroll in a group health plan. Small group health insurance plans cover between two and 50 employees, and the larger your group, the lower your premiums will be. Small businesses with only a few employees and self-employed individuals have the option of creating a group purchasing alliance with other small businesses and individuals. You can locate a purchasing coalition on your state Department of Insurance (DOI) website. (A list of state DOI websites can be found here.)

 9. Find a Subsidy. Low-income individuals and households or those with a disability, may qualify for low-cost health insurance through a state or federal program such as Medicaid or Medicare. Households that have children under the age of 19 should further look into the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. Families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid may still qualify for SCHIP. For little or no cost, SCHIP covers doctor visits, immunizations, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits. For more information, check out the Insure Kids Now web site.

Image credit: RogueSun Media 

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