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If you are in the market to purchase your own health insurance coverage you can save yourself precious time and money by shopping and comparing policies right online. Sites dedicated to giving you quotes on various types of insurance make it very easy for you to get an idea of what your coverage and costs will be. However, please be forewarned that there are some pitfalls in using an insurance broker as I discovered within the past year.

As a self employed person, I carry my own health and life insurance for my family. When making the move from New Jersey to North Carolina in 2004 I knew two things about our health insurance:

1. I would have to shop for a health insurance provider covering North Carolina.

2. Rates would be cheaper than in New Jersey, with costs being about half of what I had been paying and with slight better coverage.

Several weeks before we moved I contacted a well known internet insurance broker and received quotes. We selected one company and received the paperwork from the broker about ten days before our move. Quite frankly, I wish I had started the process a little earlier as all of our free time was dedicated toward preparing and making the move. So, I ended up packing the paperwork with my personal stuff and was only able to fill it out and submit it one week after our arrival in North Carolina.

Dealing with the online insurance broker was a simple task, but I soon discovered that they were an extra step in the application process, one that only slowed down our approval.

Once the paperwork was received by the broker, they acknowledged the same via email and mentioned that they would review our package before forwarding it to the health insurance company.

Over the next couple of weeks we received messages from the insurance broker stating the following:

1. We are in the process of reviewing your application.

2. We have sent your application off to the insurance company.

3. The insurance company has your application and will be reviewing it in about one week.

4. The insurance company expects a delay in reviewing your application due to the high volume of applications received.

5. Please do not contact the insurance company directly; we will keep you posted as to the status of your application. Yeah, right.

Originally, we were assured by the insurance broker that the health insurance company would review and approve our application within two weeks. Follow up phone calls by us to the broker along with several exchanges of emails revealed that this was not going to happen. In addition, when we contacted the health insurance company directly - at the encouragement of the broker - the health insurance company had difficulty finding our application. Within a few days the application was found sitting in another department; our contact at the health insurance company blamed the broker for sending the information to the wrong address.

As it turned out, the original insurance quote we received online was off by just over 20%. Once the health insurance company determined that certain pre existing conditions needed to be factored in our rates rose accordingly. Of course, when working with the internet broker we knew that the rate quoted wasn't 'absolute' but the big jump was still a bitter pill to swallow.

Among our thoughts at that point in the process were:

1. Had we known ahead of time that our "final rate" would be so high, we would have shopped around some more.

2. Because of the delays and the passage of time, we needed to complete the application process as our coverage with the NJ health provider would need to be canceled, preferably by the end of the year.

By the middle of December, a full ten weeks after we submitted our paperwork, we received official notification that our application was approved and that we were covered. During the last couple of weeks of the lengthy application process we contacted the health insurance company directly several times to learn what the status of our application was. At no time during the process were we assured that we would receive approval; essentially we were told that coverage would begin pending approval.

In conclusion, I offer the following recommendations for shopping for health insurance:

1. Comparison shop online. Get quotes through the online brokers to get a general idea of what your costs will be. If you have pre-existing conditions, the prices quoted will not be reflected in your quote.

2. Narrow down the list of companies quoted to three and then contact them directly. Bypass the broker as they are an unnecessary additional step in what certainly is not a quick approval process.

3. If you need insurance by a particular date, apply well in advance to allow for delays, for misplaced paperwork, changes in your application, etc. Our insurance coverage was approved effective a specific date, but we were able to move it to another date to coincide with the dropping of our NJ health care provider.

In all, the experience was wearisome at times and a real eye opener. I know you see ads all the time for online insurance quotes. I am not saying to avoid the sites, but please consider what we went through before using an online broker exclusively.

Matthew Keegan is the owner of a successful web design and marketing company based in North Carolina, USA. He manages several sites including the Corporate Flight Attendant Community at http://www.corporateflyer.net and the Aviation Employment Board at http://www.aviationemploymentboard.net


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