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Kids and Health Care: Responsibility Creeps Back to Consumers

Today, many small employers can't afford to offer health insurance to their workers. And a growing number of mid-size and even large firms can do so only if the employees pay part of the cost.

If you have at least some health coverage through your employer, you're in pretty good shape -- even if you have to pay part of the price. You also may have the option of paying your share with pre-tax dollars, which reduces your taxable income for the year and shrinks the bite Uncle Sam takes out of your paycheck. Sometimes, the tax benefits wind up making your health insurance virtually free -- for you, anyway.

But there are still lots of questions: If your employer offers you a choice of health plans, do you have enough knowledge to make the right choice for your children? If they allow pre-tax payments for your share of the costs, how do you know whether -- or how much -- to participate?

If you're confused about the types of health coverage available and what coverage is best for you and your family, you're not alone. Many of the insurance agents and brokers who used to explain the details to people are gone. Companies that sell medical insurance rely on a shrinking number of experts to explain coverages to people -- and most of these experts focus their pitch on the start of a new plan with a client. When questions come up later - and they usually do - people often get some brochures and a shrug of the shoulders.

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