Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Stuck With No Extended Health Benefits?

Extended Health Benefits
We are lucky enough to live in Canada and have pretty decent medical coverage through our provincial health care plans, but there's still a long list of things that aren't covered. Many employers offer membership to a group benefits plan, but if you work on contract, are self-employed, just graduated, or are in between jobs you'll want to make sure you're prepared for any medical expenses that might come up. 

Let's just talk quickly about Alberta Health Care coverage. It's FREE, you just need to make sure you register for it. You can check here for the forms you'll need to fill out and then it's just a quick trip to the registry. If you grew up in Alberta, you'll be covered under your parents until you turn 21, or 25 if you're a full-time student. Once age out of that coverage you will need to register yourself to prevent any lapses in coverage. Consider yourselves lucky, when I aged out of my parents plan I actually had to pay for it....Alberta Health only got rid of the premiums in 2009. 

What's Not Covered? 
While the government will cover a lot of expenses such as doctor exams, flu shots, standard hospital stays, x-rays, medically required surgery, etc. there is also a pretty extensive list of health services that are not included: 
  • Prescription drugs
  • Eye exams for anyone between 19 and 64 years old
  • Glasses or contact lenses
  • Routine dental care
  • Physiotherapy/chiropractors/massage therapy
  • Psychologists
  • Ambulance services
I consider myself to be (fairly) young and healthy, but I still have prescriptions, dentist visits, eye exams and glasses, and regular massage appointments. The cost of those really starts to add up, and I'm likely on the low end. 

If you don't have coverage through work to fill the gaps left by Alberta Health, then it makes sense to look for an alternative option. One option is to save up an emergency fund for medical expenses, but I've got some reservations about this. You never really know how much your medical bills could possibly cost. What if you make the decision to get your wisdom teeth pulled out (big dentist bill) and then one week later you have to take a ride in an ambulance. Unlikely? Absolutely, but isn't that exactly what insurance is for...to cover you in the case of the unthinkable. And, at least in my case, if I actually had to pay out of pocket every time I went to the dentist, optometrist, etc. I would not be going nearly as often as I should. Routine check-ups can save you a ton of money in the long run, but it's pretty tempting to skip that dental cleaning if it's going to cost you a couple hundred of bucks. I love going for massages, and if my work benefits covered a massage a week, I would absolutely do it. Instead, I only go once a month because that's what my work benefits cover. If money out of pocket stops me from going for extra massages you can be damn sure it will tempt me out of going to the dentist. 


Choosing a Benefit Plan
First off you'll want to think about what types of things you actually need to be covered for. Wear glasses? See a physio? Have a history of mysterious injuries? These things cost money, but you can avoid the bill if you get the right coverage (ok, maybe not for ALL mysterious injuries...) You can find a more extensive list of services/procedures that are NOT covered by Alberta Health Services here. Once you've got an idea of what you need it's time to start looking at plan options. 

If you have a pre-existing condition, there are plans available that will cover it, but you're going to pay more for it (obviously). If not, you can go through the full underwriting process, and you'll get a lower rate (as long as you're healthy). One thing to note, if you've aged out of your parent's group insurance plan there is often a grace period of about 60 days where you can get signed up for your own plan and skip the whole medical part. 

Pricing for individual health benefits will vary dramatically depending on your age, medical history, type of coverage, etc. so you'll want to get a few quotes before making a final decision. I did a quick quote on the Great West Life website, and it would cost me about $70/month for their 'Core' plan (which is the basic one). To me, that's worth it. For most expenses, that particular plan would only cover a portion of the cost, but it would still give you the peace of mind knowing you wouldn't need to foot the whole bill. There are quite a few companies out there that offer individual benefits, here are few options you can check out: 
Once you're armed with some quotes, you just have to figure out which coverage/pricing option is best for you. And remember, if you're paying the insurance premiums make sure you actually take advantage of the coverage...don't let all those free massages go to waste, and you know, go get your teeth cleaned every so often! 

Side note: if you're also interested in insurance for any fur babies in your life, I did a post on pet insurance here. Might as well take care of two insurance projects at once! 

Extended Health Benefits

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