When people pick their health insurance coverage during open enrollment periods, they usually focus on cost. The plan with the lowest premium sounds good, but is it really the best choice?
Instead of using premium cost as your only guide, use your medical mindset as well.
We all have differences in how we utilize health care. Two married Harvard physicians, Dr. Pamela Hartzband and Dr. Jerome Groopman, recognized these differences in each other. As you would expect from good researchers at Harvard, they decided to explore why.
Dr. Hartzband grew up in a family where the doctor was called only as a last resort. They called this mindset a “minimizer.” Dr. Groopman tended to consult doctors regularly in hopes of perfecting his health. They called this mindset a “maximizer.” They developed the concept of a medical mindset and in 2011 wrote the book Your Medical Mind to help patients make better decisions about their medical care.
Your Medical Mind mentions nothing about using your health care mindset to control costs. The financial planner in me, however, immediately recognized that using your mindset could significantly help you manage your health care expenses.
So how does it pertain to choosing your health insurance?
If you are healthy and have a minimizer mindset, you should consider a high deductible HMO plan with low premium costs. It is very important, however, to set money aside in a health savings account to meet the deductible should a serious health problem ever occur. With the current health care law, if you develop significant long term problems, you can switch to a lower deductible plan that allows wider doctor networks during the open enrollment period.
For a maximizer mindset, the best plan will depend on your health care desires. Do you have a great family doctor whom you trust with your health care? Then a low deductible HMO plan is a good way to go. However, if you want to go to a specialist without seeing a family doctor, a low deductible PPO is probably the better choice. If you are in a high tax bracket, picking a high deductible plan but fully funding a health savings account may still be a good option. It is important to analyze the numbers.
In addition to better health insurance choices, understanding your medical mindset helps you utilize health care more effectively. Patients are not the only ones with a medical mindset. Doctors have one too, and that can affect the type of care they deliver.
If your doctor is a minimizer, she may take more conservative approaches, perhaps saving you money. If you are also a minimizer, this is great. But if you are a maximizer, you may not be satisfied with the care you receive and may spend more money going to additional providers. Make certain your doctor understands your health care approach so you receive the right care for you.
By paying attention to how you utilize health care, you can make better choices about the care you sign up for. And that can help you save money on your health plan and out-of-pocket costs.
Carolyn McClanahan is a physician, financial planner, and founder of Life Planning Partners, Inc. In addition to running her financial planning practice, she educates financial planners, health care professionals, and the public on the intersections of health and personal finance.