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Get the Best Rate on Health Insurance

Kimberly Lankford

Before you apply for coverage, make sure that your medical records are accurate and that you have any conditions under control.



Is there anything I can do to improve my health-insurance application to get a better deal on a policy?

There's a lot that you can do ahead of time that can help you present the strongest case on your health-insurance application, says Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner in Jacksonville, Fla., who was also a primary-care and emergency-room doctor. Here's what she recommends:

Check your Medical Information Bureau records. If you've ever applied for individual life, health, disability or long-term-care insurance, the Medical Information Bureau probably has a file on you. Insurers share details about your medical condition through the MIB, and such information can remain on your MIB report for up to seven years. Make sure there aren't any mistakesin your file -- just as you would check your credit report. You can get a free copy every year at www.mib.com.

Review your doctor's records for errors. "You have every right to see your medical records," says McClanahan. Your doctor may charge a copying fee, and it may be tough to decipher the information, so be prepared to enlist help from a friend or family member in the medical field. If you find a mistake, it's easier to get it corrected before you apply for insurance than after you are rejected or charged a higher rate because of the mistake. In the latter case, your doctor would need to write a letter to the insurer explaining that the information was incorrect -- an extra step that should encourage your doctor to share his or her records with you before you apply. It also helps to have your records handy when you're filling out the insurance application, so you avoid making a costly mistake that could jeopardize your coverage.

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Make sure your medical records don't have any loose ends.McClanahan says that doctors often make a diagnosis, and then nothing else about the condition appears in your records. When that happens, the underwriter at the insurance company doesn't know whether you still suffer from the condition or are doing better.

If, for example, you suffered from depression after a divorce three years ago but haven't had any trouble since, your record should reflect that. "You need to have your doctor update the notes to say that the patient has been doing well and is not taking any medications, if that is the case," she says. "When insurance companies looks at medical records, they want to see whether issues have been resolved."

Add information about how you control a medical condition. Instead of just checking off the fact that you have a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma, go into detail. Explain what medications you take and if you're diabetic, for example, what your blood glucose level is to show your condition is under control, plus any other information that will help the underwriter understand that your situation may be less risky than that of other people with the same condition. If your records say that you have a condition that is poorly controlled, make an extra effort to get it under control before you apply for coverage -- which could make a big difference in your health-insurance premiums.

Check out your numbers ahead of time. Each insurer has cut-offs for height and weight or body-mass index that it will accept for different health-insurance rate classes. A body-mass index of more than 25 is generally considered overweight and could prevent you from getting the best rates. If you know that you'll be applying for individual insurance in a few months (if you have COBRA that is about to expire, for example), then check out your BMI using the BMI calculator from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and make an effort to lose weight before the physical exam that counts for your individual insurance application.

Contact your insurer if your condition has improved. Let your insurer know if you've lost weight, stopped smoking, improved your cholesterol or blood pressure or made other big changes to your health. You may be able to redo the medical exam and get a better rate, says McClanahan. Each insurer has different rules about how long it would like to see the improvement last before lowering your rate. Some want you to have a certain amount of weight off for up to two years, or want to see that you've stopped smoking from one to five years before reducing your rate -- the amount of time and details vary by company. It may also pay to shop around again and get help from an agent who deals with many insurers and knows which one is likely to offer the best rates for someone like you.

For more information about strategies to get the best rate on health insurance, see Score Big Savings on Health Coverage.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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