Get a handle on health-care costs

Save a bundle on insurance and medications with these savvy tips

Maximize the coverage you already have

Spend less and still get the most out of your plan.

Ratchet down your insurance. If you're young, healthy and childless, you need less coverage than someone older with a large family. Consider switching to a policy with a higher deductible―you could save $100 or more a month in premiums. Some plans even have extremely high deductibles―up to $10,000. You'll be covered in case of a catastrophic illness, but routine health-care expenses will come out of your own pocket, up to the amount of the deductible. High-deductible plans are often paired with a health savings account (HSA), into which you put tax-free dollars. You use the account to pay medical costs not covered by insurance. If you put $1,000 into an HSA and you're in the 15 percent federal tax bracket, you've just saved $150 on your tax bill.

Bonus tip: Watch out when investigating HSAs: Some charge as much as $120 per year in maintenance fees. To find a plan with low or no fees, go to hsafinder.com.

Insure your family separately. If you get insurance through your job, you probably have the option to cover your spouse and children, too. But adding your family to your policy may not be the best move. Employers typically subsidize 80 percent of the premiums for their employees, but 70 percent or less--or none at all--for the employee's family. That means your premiums could jump by hundreds of dollars a month if you add your family to your plan. Check with an insurance broker (find one at nahu.org) or a Web site such as ehealthinsurance.com to see if it's cheaper to buy a separate policy elsewhere for dependents.

Play it smart if you leave your job. Whether you quit, are laid off or are fired, you're entitled to COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage. But you must pay for it, and the premiums can be stiff. Don't accept this option right away. By filing your paperwork at the last minute, you can actually get 105 days of coverage free.

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