LIANE HANSEN, host:
We have an update now on a story we aired last month about health insurance in rural areas. NPR's Howard Berkes reported that the owner of a small business in Nebraska was uninsured because premiums would cost 24,000 to $40,000 a year. That sounded way off-base to a Nebraska insurance broker.
NPR's Howard Berkes now reports on what became an eye-opening experience about finding affordable insurance.
HOWARD BERKES: This was also an eye-opening experience about checking facts. Larry Harbour did the best he could to try to convey complex quotes about health insurance. But if I had done more to check his numbers, I would've likely ended up with Brian Urban, an insurance broker and a Nebraska contact for the National Association of Health Underwriters.
Mr. BRIAN URBAN (Insurance Broker, National Association of Health Underwriters): Just the size of the numbers were far out of what the market would dictate even for someone with some severe medical conditions. And according to the story, these were healthy individuals.
BERKES: Urban is charitable. He could say only a doofus reporter would believe such numbers. Instead, he dialed up Larry Harbour at his detail and chrome shop in Broken Bone, Nebraska for the first of several chats aimed at finding affordable insurance.
Mr. URBAN: Because according to the story, he was uninsured and I don't find that acceptable. It's my job to make sure that as many people are as insured as possible.
BERKES: And Urban didn't want the inaccurate notion of 24 to $40,000 premiums affecting the nation's health insurance debate.
Mr. URBAN: We're not opposed to reform, obviously. It's just that we want to make sure that we're dealing with real-life facts and numbers and we focus that reform in the areas it's truly needed.
BERKES: And, boy, is Larry Harbour happy to have the help.
Mr. LARRY HARBOUR: First of all, it's very confusing, it's very tough to understand unless you have someone, so to speak, holding your hand walking you through the process.
BERKES: Harbour is 33 and hasn't had health insurance since he was a kid. His own two children are covered by a state plan. But with a new business, he figured it was time he and his wife were insured. So, he dialed toll-free numbers advertised on TV and radio and slogged through pitches bursting with jargon and numbers. Harbour had never heard of health insurance brokers like Brian Urban, and even if he had, he'd probably have no idea how to find one.
Mr. URBAN: One would be, if he's at a cocktail party, look for the person that's alone in the corner of the room. That's probably the insurance agent that no one's talking to.
BERKES: Or go to the National Association of Health Underwriters' Web site and punch in a zip code to get a short list of local and licensed brokers. Still, Harbour is wary.
Mr. HARBOUR: Well, because I know everyone needs to make money and there is also those people out there who have to make their certain quota or they want to aspire in the company and they do what they can to get as many policies.
BERKES: Insurance broker Urban understands the skepticism. He recommends independent brokers and agents not tied to specific insurance companies and plans. And he says it's smart to shop around.
Mr. URBAN: As much as you would check the difference between the TV at Best Buy and a TV at Target and determine the features and benefits and the costs, that you can do the same thing with insurance products.
BERKES: Urban found a plan for Harbour and his wife with a premium of just $2,400 a year. I'd outline the rest of the plan, but then I'd be the guy standing alone in the corner at cocktail parties. We'll post the details at NPR.org. It sounds affordable, but Harbour still has lots of questions.
Mr. HARBOUR: That's just the tip of the iceberg, I'm sure. There's probably about 50 feet worth of ice underneath that policy that I have to try to explore or figure out before I can even figure out if it's a good policy for me or not.
BERKES: But he's grateful for the confusion and failed fact checking that put broker Brian Urban on his trail. And Urban says Larry Harbour is by no means alone in finding the health insurance search elusive.
Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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