Extension Workshops Offer ‘Smart Choice’ about Health Insurance

smart choiceAMES, Iowa — With the opening of the federal Health Insurance Marketplace this month, many Iowans are taking an active interest in their health insurance options. However, as they consider essential benefits, additional coverage and pre-existing conditions, they may feel overwhelmed by the choices.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is offering workshops to build Iowans’ health insurance literacy so they can make informed decisions and choose a health insurance policy that meets their needs. Smart Choice Health Insurance workshops are being offered throughout Iowa. Contact any ISU Extension and Outreach county office for details.

“Smart Choice is a health insurance literacy curriculum. It is research and theory based and consumer tested,” said Suzanne Bartholomae, an ISU Extension and Outreach family financial management specialist.

ISU Extension and Outreach is providing research-based education to help consumers understand health insurance concepts and terms, evaluate their own health insurance needs, examine insurance plans and select a plan that fits their needs and budget.

Various organizations and agencies have been addressing concerns about the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace, but the ISU Extension and Outreach workshops are different.

“Our Smart Choice workshops will not be an avenue for enrolling consumers in health insurance or for providing one-on-one advice about health insurance. Navigators and other consumer assistors play this role,” Bartholomae explained.

“We address the Affordable Care Act in Smart Choice, and we will be supplementing it with tax credit and cost subsidy information, but it is not the focus of our workshops,” Bartholomae said.

Smart Choice is applicable to both current health insurance consumers and those who are newly eligible through the Affordable Care Act, she noted.

With the changing U.S. health insurance system, many Iowans have more health insurance options for 2014 than they had in the past, said Barb Wollan, one of the ISU Extension and Outreach family finance specialists who are teaching the Smart Choice classes.

People with pre-existing health problems now cannot be denied or charged more for coverage, Wollan noted. People who couldn’t afford insurance now will have access to cost breaks, perhaps even for insurance with no premium. In addition, the new marketplace makes it easier to compare health insurance options.

As a family finance specialist, Wollan has long recommended health insurance as an important part of financial security.

“Insurance may help cover ‘normal’ medical expenses, such as your annual check-up, or treatment for your child’s ear infection, but that’s not the reason it is important. Those expenses aren’t cheap, but many people can cover the costs without insurance,” Wollan said.

The real benefit of insurance comes when someone has a serious health problem, whether it’s a broken bone, or a serious illness or massive injuries in an accident. Most people can’t manage that type of cost on their own, Wollan said.

“These major health events don’t happen to everyone every year, thankfully. But something major probably will happen at some point, and we never know when that might be. That’s why health insurance is recommended — you pay a moderate amount in premiums every year to prevent financial disaster whenever the major health expenses come along,” Wollan said.