It’s that time of year again and millions of Americans using Medicare plans, Affordable Care Act and employer-sponsored health insurance are selecting their health plans.  There’s a lot to choose from and all too often, you pay more than you should – or need to.  Healthcare strategic planning will ensure that you get only what you need, and pay only what you need to.

You might pick a deductible that’s too low.  Sure, it could save money for some people, but it could also cost you in higher premiums.  If you save $250 on your deductible, but it costs you $500 in premiums, you’re not exactly on the winning end of the deal.

Today, most people just don’t understand basic health insurance concepts.  In a recent study, 71 percent of participants couldn’t identify fundamental cost-sharing features of health insurance plans.  This is why people over pay for a lower deductible.

Another study, led by George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, found that people misunderstood plan features and costs.

Even with the details of their plan right in front of them, only 40 percent of Americans who were privately insured could identify how much they’d have to pay for an M.R.I. scan. For a four-day hospital stay, only 11 percent could calculate their out of pocket cost.  Most study subjects were overconfident and felt they understood what a “co-pay” was. Only 7 percent would admit to not knowing what “maximum out-of-pocket” meant, but 41 percent couldn’t define it.

Consumers also tend to choose plans that are nearer the top of the list, much the way politicians at the top of ballots get more votes.

What all this means is that most consumers are picking a healthcare plan based solely on the same type of information they’d use to order lunch at a fastfood restaurant – catchy name, order number on the menu – without giving any real consideration to the contents.  Without getting some help consumers don’t have a very good chance of picking the plan that’s right for them, cost-wise.

The errors that were common mostly dealt with co-pay and premiums.  For example, most consumers steer clear of higher co-pays, but don’t notice that the difference was usually doubled in the premium.  In plain English – Going from $1,000 co-pay to $750 often resulted in a $500 increase in premium.  Consumers would still pick the $750 co-pay plan, even though it cost them an extra $250 premium.

When pharmacy students helped California Medicare beneficiaries understand drug plan costs, 60 percent switched plans.  Using a solid healthcare strategic planning guide will give you a better chance of securing the right plan for you and your family.

The federal government’s site will offer more information about plans — like which physicians are in plan networks — and cost comparison tools.  However, if we look at last year, most consumers won’t actively shop for a more beneficial plan. The Department of Health and Human Services showed that more than 70 percent of consumers could find a cheaper plan. Unfortunately, most won’t unless they get outside help.