Shop for Health Insurance Like, Well, a Shopper

The window for buying Affordable Care Act marketplace plans closes on Dec. 15. Even if you've already chosen your health insurance for 2018, take the time to really get in the weeds with your plan. New research shows that we don't shop for insurance like skeptical, self-interested consumers — and that can be a problem for our health.

Experts at the University of Michigan looked into high-deductible health plans, which have low monthly costs but require you to pay a lot out of pocket before the insurer chips in. About 40 percent of Americans have a health insurance policy like this. In a perfect world, that means you'd set aside savings specifically for health care. Unfortunately, saving eludes most of us, even in the best of economies; 6 in 10 study participants had no such designated savings.

Health care can be confusing and overwhelming even outside of emergencies, and it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of a personal scare. But the UM research shows that we're not behaving like consumers when it comes to health care. If you buy a car, apply to a degree program, or even check an ingredient list, you do research on how that purchase fits in with your needs, your budget, and your goals. Do the same with health insurance. Ask your health care provider about costs and options. Compare prices and quality ratings. Find out what else your plan can provide.

People with high-deductible plans often use their health care less than those who don't, putting themselves at risk for preventable conditions. Remember that your health insurance is a product, and you have the right to both understand it thoroughly and use everything you're promised — and paying for.