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Why you (and I) will likely pick the wrong health-insurance plan (Season One, episode 4)

19 minutes


Because as smart economists recently proved) it is super-confusing, and most of us can’t do the math.

But! We found glimmers of hope. So don’t be scared.


We’d like to hear how you’re choosing your health insurance for next year— or are you going to do without? — and what you’ve learned from past mistakes. You can scroll down and just start typing, or hit us up at insurance [[at]] arm and a leg show [[dot]] [[com]] 

EXTRA CREDIT: We’d love it if you send us a voice memo!


Finally, we’ve got some resources here — guides from some smart, friendly folks — to help you get smarter and avoid some worst-case outcomes.


  1. The basics from a smart, kind civilian: Arm and a Leg listener Anna Jo Beck gave herself an education on the topic after her husband was diagnosed with cancer (he’s fine now) — and captured what she learned in a charming, self-published booklet. For Your Health: Making Sense of American Health Insurance starts with “What is it, and do I need it?” and goes on from there. BONUS: It’s peppered with what Anna describes as “moments of cute, heartwarming distraction to keep you from wanting to totally give up hope.”
  2. Another version of the basics, from a smart journalist: Vox.com health-care reporter Sarah Kliff published I’m a health-care reporter. Here’s how I shop for health insurance in 2015. It’s still a good primer.
  3. More advanced and detailed (also funny), from another smart journalist: Business Insider’s health editor Zachary Tracer chronicled his own decision-making — including actual math — in fall 2018: My company offers free health insurance — here’s why I decided to spend $1,000 more on a better plan.


The basic premise all around: If you can afford to think about anything but the lowest-possible monthly premium, then a good thing to think about is: Financially speaking, what’s the worst-case scenario, if I get hit by a bus or something?  

Which is not exactly a fun scenario to contemplate, but still. It’s why the very cheapest plans, in terms of what you pay every month, may not be a good deal.

The Oh My Dollar podcast goes into good-humored detail in a recent Halloween episode, The $30 Spooky Health Plan You Probably Don’t Want. (No time to listen? No problem: They’ve done a great write-up.)

This episode closes with War of Amusements by Mucca Pazza—a Chicago treasure since 2004. The group’s self-description — “the marching band that thinks it’s a rock’n’roll band” — doesn’t begiin to do it justice. You can download the track on a pay-what-you-want basis, or listen on Spotify.


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