Each plan has pros and cons, many of which depend upon the way you and your family use health care. High deductible plans, for instance, may not be the best choice for those with tight budgets and little savings to tap if there is a medical emergency, or for large families making frequent visits to the pediatrician.
Once you understand your choices, you should take a look at what sort of medical care you've used in the past year. Adding up your spending on co-payments, over-the-counter medications and treatments that are not covered by your current plan can give you a target for funding an HSA or FSA. If you have a chronic condition and have grown to trust a certain doctor, you'll want to make sure that doctor participates in any plan you're considering.
And if you think you might switch plans, doing some research about the doctors and hospitals in the available plans can help you decide.
Checking up on doctors
There are a number of Web sites that rate health care providers, and it's clear people are hungry for more information. The busiest eight sites focusing on doctor ratings saw usage spike 20% in the past year, to more than 8.6 million individual visitors, according to Compete Inc., which tracks online behavior.
User demand drove the 2008 decision to add health care provider reviews to Angie's List, a site better known for its customer opinions about household contractors and services. "It was one of the most requested additions to the list in our 14 years," said founder Angie Hicks, estimating that about a quarter of all reviews collected each month are now health care related.
Unlike many free sites, users who post to Angie's List cannot do so anonymously, and the number of times they can report on a particular provider is limited.
But just like sites that don't require membership, the information available is inconsistent. With most consumer-based ratings sites, you'll find some that some doctors have dozens of reports, while others have a handful. Fewer patient reviews can skew the ratings. And often, the people posting comments have had very positive or very negative experiences, making it hard to assess overall care.