On Oct. 1, America's health care system underwent its biggest change since Medicare's arrival almost 50 years ago when the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act start kicking in. And although millions of people who have been without health insurance should finally be able to get it, the system will remain just as complex and unforgiving as it is today.
To avoid unnecessary fees, penalties and just plain bad deals, Consumer Reports Money Adviser offers these health-insurance don'ts:
1. Don't assume because you're healthy you don't need health insurance. If you get sick and then decide to buy health insurance from plans made available as part of the Affordable Care Act, you might not be able to, at least not right away. You'll be allowed to purchase only individual health insurance during the initial open enrollment period — Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014. In subsequent years, open enrollment will run from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 for coverage that begins Jan. 1.
So if you decide to thumb your nose at the 2013-14 deadline and are hit by a bus on April 1, you'll have to wait nine full months to get health insurance. And needless to say, it won't retroactively pay for care you received when you didn't have it.
2. Don't pick a plan based solely on low premiums. There is no free lunch in health insurance, but there is a menu of payment options to choose from. You can pay for your care upfront, in the form of a higher premium, or later, in the form of a higher co-payment, a bigger deductible or both. Neither form of payment is inherently better; it depends on your personal situation and preferences.
3. Don't carelessly go out of network. One of the big selling points of a preferred provider organization (PPO) over a health maintenance organization (HMO) is that if you have a PPO, you can opt to get your care from doctors or hospitals that don't participate in the plan's network. With HMOs, you can't.