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June 07, 2007

Shopping for health care

When Scott Fowler quit his job at Wal-Mart to make a living as a painting contractor, he left his medical insurance behind. He and his wife went without health coverage for years because they believed they couldn't afford premiums of $600 to $700 a month.

But in recent years the health insurance industry, after so long seeming indifferent to individual customers, has increasingly catered to them, said Gary Lauer, chief executive of EHealth, which operates an online insurance agency.

Dozens of new kinds of products -- including high-deductible coverage, policies with linked sav ings accounts and policies that limit coverage for prescription drugs or maternity care -- have been introduced, said David Olsen, senior vice president of insurer HealthNet.

That has resulted in a vibrant market with a greater number of affordable options, experts say.

"We have found that people have been surprised at how affordable health insurance can be," Lauer said.

That proved to be a lifesaver for Fowler, who again went shopping for health coverage after his dad died of heart failure three years ago. This time, he was able to se cure a good policy for about half the price of the quotes he had received years earlier.

A few months after the policy began, Fowler was diagnosed with the same heart problem that killed his father. He spent eight days in the hospital to fix the condition. Had he not been insured, Fowler says, he wouldn't have received the life-saving diagnosis because he never would have gone to the doctor in the first place.

"It was a real blessing," said Fowler, 38, who lives in California. "When I wasn't feeling well, I realized I had insurance, so I could go to the doctor. I can't even imagine how much that insurance policy saved me."

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Posted by healthinsurance at June 7, 2007 12:23 AM