Whether they’re insured through their employer or buy their own health insurance, many people view their annual re-enrollment as a chore — a tedious task to be carried out as quickly as possible.

That could be a mistake, experts warn.

As chief marketing officer with Washington Health Benefit Exchange, the state’s public private agency tasked with running Washington Healthplanfinder, Michael Marchand is in a unique position to observe consumer habits concerning health insurance.

To help consumers make better choices, Washington Healthplanfinder is available to help them select the best plans from among more than 100 qualified health and dental plans offered across the state for the 2021 enrollment period – which runs through Jan. 15, 2021 for coverage beginning February 1.

Consumers who use Washington Healthplanfinder answer a series of questions to create a profile, then choose from a winnowed-down list of plan options custom-tailored for their health needs.

Among the most alarming things Marchand has observed: “People buying health insurance they can’t use.” Two of Marchand’s key take-aways from observing consumer habits in Washington this year:

  • About 20% of enrollees are new. Among the 80% who are re-enrolling, most stick with the same plan.
  • An estimated 86% of the plan participants enrolled now could save money if they switched plans.

In many ways, Marchand says, shopping for health insurance has some of the same pitfalls as shopping for running shoes.

“The ‘perfect’ running shoe may fit this year and not the next because the shoe company has changed the design. Similarly, people’s health care needs change over time – as do health plans with yearly updates to benefits, drug formularies, networks, or premium costs,” he says. “It’s important to take these variables and your personal circumstances into consideration when purchasing new coverage.”

Since insurance needs change over time, here is a synopsis of common health issues over the span of a typical lifetime, which consumers should consider when choosing insurance coverage.

In your 20s

Adults can stay on a parent’s insurance until age 26. After that, they are required to have insurance through a spouse, an employer or the state marketplace.

“Life events in your 20s are usually the “sudden” events — broken bone, illness and maybe the need for medications or services as part of a diagnosis,” Marchand says.

In your 30s and 40s

“You are more likely to be identifying longer-term issues to manage – including acid reflux, asthma, food or plant allergies, cholesterol, etc.,” Marchand says. “And of course, having kids puts a whole new wrinkle on choosing coverage given the frequency of pediatric visits and other checkups  that you never had to consider before.”

In your 50s

“The 50s is likely to involve more services, including MRIs or surgeries to repair older injuries such as rotator cuffs, knees, and sometimes feet or elbows,” Marchand says. “There are also a number of health tests and procedures that start coming into play as you get older. Finally, you will probably be taking prescription medications for something – and that need will only increase as you get older.”

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In your 60s and beyond

“Bigger-ticket items start to come into play. Managing chronic illness like diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure become more prevalent,” Marchand says. “Also, the ongoing need to address physical ailments such as arthritic joints may arise. Hopefully, if you have stayed active and maintained a healthy diet you can avoid some of the longer-term issues.”

Nothing in this article is meant to be construed as medical advice. The health issues in this article are presented from the standpoint of an insurance professional.

This year, Washington Healthplanfinder is offering a total of 115 Qualified Health Plans and seven Qualified Dental Plans. This includes certification of new Cascade Care products available for the first time on Washington Healthplanfinder.