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How do you shop for health insurance?

Must-haves and Might-needs: Setting Your Health Insurance Priorities allows for easy comparison between insurance plans. allows for easy comparison between insurance plans.

In 2010, the White House unveiled The Web site is an easy-to-use resource that provides a great deal of information about buying health insurance. The site features a database of all the insurance plans that are out there, and by answering just a few questions about your age, location and health status, you can learn which ones you might be eligible for. The search results include both public and private options, so you'll be reminded that you might be eligible for the new governmental health plans for people with pre-existing conditions, or that your children might be eligible for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

When it comes to health insurance, you may want to spend as little as possible, particularly if you're in good health. Resist this instinct and compare the plans available on more than just price points. A cheap insurance plan tends to offer bare-bones benefits, which could cause trouble down the line should you get in an accident or get really sick. If turns up 50 plans, then, it's good to consider each one's benefits. But how?

As with most shopping tasks, it's good to make a list of the things you want from your health insurance so you won't forget anything. If you're a young, healthy individual, you may need a few check-ups per year, but if you're starting a family, you'll want to look for a policy with maternity care and well-baby visits. Perhaps you're already on a few medications -- you'll need help paying for those. Maybe you see certain doctors or specialists, and you don't want to switch physicians. Take a moment to list the kind of coverage you'd need at this exact moment; let's call these conditions your "must-haves."

Then, you'll have to indulge your darkest fears, if ever so briefly. You need to consider what kind of care you'd need in a worst-case scenario. Do you want the ability to visit an urgent care center? If you're at risk for a heart attack, you'd need to consider surgery and hospitalization. If you were injured in a car accident, wouldn't you want access to diagnostic testing like an X-ray? Add some of these procedures, which we'll call your "might-needs," to the list you started of must-haves.

Got your list? Head on to the next page, where we're going to turn it into a full-fledged chart.

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