No workplace benefits? No problem

Insurance companies generally offer bare bones plans at lower prices

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OTTAWA – The period of time between graduating from school to landing a full-time job with benefits can stretch on for months or years for young Canadians, meaning they lack extended health and dental benefits since they’re too old to be covered by their parents’ plans.

And with the growing use of contract employees who don’t receive benefits, that means young Canadians must fend for themselves and buy their own supplemental health and dental insurance.

Provincial health insurance doesn’t cover everything. Whether it’s a prescription for penicillin, a crown that needs to be replaced or an ambulance ride to the hospital, if you don’t have insurance, you’ll end up paying out of pocket.

Loretta Kulchycki, vice-president of group marketing at Great-West Life, suggests consumers start their hunt for health and dental benefits by deciding how much coverage they’re going to need and researching their options online.

“If you are young, you will tend to be healthier, and in that case would probably have lower premiums than somebody who, say, is planning for a retiree product,” she said.

Insurance companies generally offer a choice of the level of coverage, from bare bones plans that provide basic prescription drug coverage and dental checkups to comprehensive options with higher limits and a broader range of coverage.

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How much you want to spend will depend on your budget and what you expect your needs to be since costs can quickly escalate depending on how much coverage you’re looking to buy.

“It is really about taking a look at: ‘What do I think I’ll actually use?’ as a starting point,” Kulchycki said.

How often do you think you’ll go to the dentist? Do you wear glasses? Do you think you’ll need the services of a physiotherapist? Those are all questions you should ask yourself when considering coverage.

Laurel Pedersen, assistant vice-president of health insurance product development at Sun Life, says if you have a pre-existing health condition, you have some choices.

A “guaranteed issue” plan may be more expensive, but will cover a pre-existing condition, while a fully underwritten plan may be cheaper, but exclude costs connected with your outstanding health issues.

Pedersen says an adviser can walk you through your options, and will understand what the different plans will cost, how they work and what might be in your best interest.

“They’re exactly there to walk them through their broader budget considerations,” she said.

Sue Reibel, senior vice-president of consumer solutions at Manulife, says if you’re coming off your parents’ group plan or another insurance plan, time is of the essence. You generally have about 60 days when you can roll yourself into an individual plan without going through underwriting.

“You’ve got an opportunity to get a preferential purchase,” she said. “If you pass that time frame, then you’re buying (while) taking all of your individual circumstances into account and it may affect your price.”

Reibel noted that when insurance shoppers consider what they need, it’s important to understand what other coverage they already have and what they need so they don’t end up paying for non-essential items or lacking insurance for something they could have anticipated.

“It is understanding where your personal gaps are,” she said. “It takes some time to really think about your personal situation and reflect. It is not a big investment of time, we’re talking about half an hour of thinking that can save you a lot of money.”

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