Which Health Insurance Plan?

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi BPN.

    Recently relocated and don't have a job with benefits. Recommendations for affordable health insurance? A quick google seemed to suggest Kaiser was most affordable - though around $850 a month for a family of three (with no existing health conditions). 

    Thanks in advance.

    I have been in your shoes. In recent years, Blue Cross/Blue Shield have been more competitive in pricing. However, Kaiser has centralized services that make lab work and pharmacy cheaper. With Kaiser, I’ve had to be insistent upon specific items after surgery. They are thorough, but I was my best advocate. The same applies for weekly mental health therapy; don’t expect to be reimbursed. Kaiser relies heavily on medication. You’d have to have a serious mental health crisis for them to refer you to an MFT.

    Good luck!

    Covered California (https://coveredca.com/) is open for enrollment now - when I researched health insurance last year they had the best prices, although we ended up not going that route (ended up getting Kaiser directly through Kaiser like you're considering because it's the next best cost-wise - it is literally 10x the cost of what CoveredCA would have been for us, though).

    I’m wondering if you may qualify for a Medicaid plan? Or could try the health exchange? I was in a similar spot before and qualified for a subsidized plan that helped cover some of that cost for the premium. 

  • Hi my org is about to start open enrollment and I have the option of changing my insurance from Cigna to Kaiser. My 15 yr old struggles with anxiety and depression and we had a few visits to the ER last year for suicidal ideation. He currently is on meds and those and his psychiatrist visits are covered by Cigna (and we don't love the psychiatrist anyway) but none of the other stuff I've found useful have been--DBT parenting for me, none of the therapists we've connected with have been in network (and my teen won't go rn anyway). I know Kaiser isn't the best for mental health but I'm wondering if we might have more options that are covered, especially if we need some kind of outpatient care or groups. I could also witch to Cigna PPO. Any thoughts?

    I wouldn't recommend switching to Kaiser. I have a 16-year-old who struggles with anxiety and depression--there was some suicidal ideation about a year ago, and even so, getting mental health services from Kaiser has been a complete wild goose chase. (Both at Kaiser Oakland and Kaiser Richmond.) If you're not happy with the therapist you're seeing, maybe switch to Cigna PPO. I wish you all the best!

    As you probably know the Kaiser psych dept has gone on strike a couple of times in part because of the poor services they are forced to provide due to not enough staff. My son does have a psychiatrist and a therapist he likes there, but he can only see the therapist about once a month and sometimes it's canceled. At one point they gave us an authorization for outside therapy, but of the long list of therapists on the network they use, only 1 was taking (kaiser) patients and he wasn't a good fit for my son. We must have made 50 calls. Kaiser does have groups, including some really good parenting groups and groups for teens with various issues, and my partner gets CBT there, but your teen will probably not be able to get one-on-one therapy more frequently than once a month.

    I hope your family gets the help you need. Kaiser will not be great if one of the things you want is weekly therapy; they basically don’t provide it, but can refer you out to either Beacon or Magellan, both of which are sadly very poor.  However, Kaiser does have lots of groups, I think I recall a DBT group for teens when we visited the child psychiatry arm of things. The psychiatrists are mostly very good.  You will very likely find more than one group he or you would benefit from; their “model” seems to be group therapy. If I’m not mistaken you can find their behavioral health groups listed online (don’t have to be a member to view them, but would to enroll). Best of luck. 

    We don't get great feedback about Kaiser. You might want to talk with a insurance advocate in the mental health industry who can answer some questons for you should at one point you need to look at a higher level of care for your teen. 

          Karen Fessel and Staff at

    925) 388-0892

    info [at] autismhealthinsurance.org

    Jan Rao


    You also might try Wise Mind Institute in Berkeley. They are really doing some outstanding work with DBT and RO DBT.  You might want to speak with Wes Pederson in the Redwood City office first. I just attended a presentation he did. It was awesome.

    Berkeley Office
    1010 Grayson St
    Suite 3You 
    Berkeley, CA 94710
    phone: 650-503-8179
    fax: 650-679-8052

    Jan Rao


Archived Q&A and Reviews

New to town, need to find health insurance

May 2009

We are new to the area, and both me and my husband don't have a job yet. Can anyone advise me on how to go about buying a health insurance for a family with young kids? I am also looking for a health insurance that is not too expensive. Any advice will be appreciated! anon

We just bought a Blue Shield Plan (Balance Plan 2500) for our family- 2 healthy adults, 4 y.o. and 3 month-old. It is costing us about $340/month. It covers everything we need with $30 copays and a $2500 deductible. We did the whole application online, and although it took them 45 days to approve us (when the website assures 30 days) for no apparent reason, we haven't had any problems since. It does not cover any maternity, if that will be an issue for you. Good luck! Hate the red tape....

If you need medical insurance a great step to take is to contact Jean Sturges 510-845-6688. She is a health insurance broker and can address your needs by dealing with many different companies and see what best suits your family's needs. You do not pay her at all for her services. She would be compensated by the insurance company, if you do end up buying a policy through her. Many people that I have known of have been very happy working with her and benefiting from her expertise and knowledge in the field. Good luck! Leah

Alta Bates vs. Hills Physicians

March 2002

I'm looking for any information about the Alta Bates Medical Group versus the Hills Physicians. We have PacifiCare and we were in the Alta Bates Group until I got pregnant and wanted to have a midwife for the baby's birth. We had a horrible time switching to Hill's (they cover midwifery, ABMG does not). But we were successful. (They didn't want to switch us because I was over three months pregnant. They finally switched us due to a mistake they made, otherwise they wouldn't have allowed it, apparently.) Hills will not cover going back to my midwife for an annual exam, saying I would have to see my primary care dr. or an ob/gyn. Are there any benefits to staying in Hills over Alta Bates since neither one will cover seeing an alternative practitioner for women's health issues? I just feel that Hills works even harder to deny services than anyone else would. Laura

I don't know a lot about either but a couple months ago Hills and childrens hospital were trying to decide wether or not to renew their contract. They did renew and while talking to the rep at Childrens Hospital I asked about Alta Bates Medical group and if they were in better standing with Childrens He basically said Alta bates were also on shaky ground ( At that time) and that Alta Bates Medical was part of Alta Bates Hospital Leading me to believe they tend to lean more towards ther own hospital and may not continue with Childrens. I personally would want my child to go to Childrens If she ever needed to be hospitalized. We had to go when she was 11 days old and the place is great. Anonymous

The specialist I see, Dr. Lisa Bailey, and her office manager, both thought that Hill was better than Alta Bates (while recognizing that the whole HMO concept sucks). I have a high regard for their opinion, as it's a well run office and a good doctor. anonymous

I can't help but wonder if the information you were given (about not being able to see a midwife for your yearly gyno checkup) is mistaken. I was in HealthNet w/Hill Physicians before I switched to Kaiser, and my midwife said, ''I'll see you next year!'' Ask someone else in Hill Physicians. I think you'll get a different answer. Good luck. (as a data point: my old doctor's office had nothing but trouble with Alta Bates Medical Group and was very pleased when I switched to Hill Physicians. Said ABMG was *very* difficult to deal with.) Jennie

November 2002

Does anyone have any feelings about Pacificare HMO versus Healthnet? I am not sure which one to pick. They both offer about the same services, but in terms of service both are unknowns to me. The last posting regarding this was in 2001, so I would greatly appreciate updated information. Thank you Deb

Hi, I've had both Pacificare and Healthnet at various times. They are both very good plans, though lately Healthnet has been cutting costs. For instance, in the last 6 months they have stopped paying for pre-natal vitamins even though my deductible was $20 and the vitamins are $22. I also believe that they've made it a bit harder to reach a representative on their phone systems. It used to be the first option on the recording, now it's not a listed option.

When I had Pacificare (about 18 mo. ago) they let different family members have different groups. So my husband was with Hills Physicians, while me & the toddler were with Toland & Brown. (Healthnet, Blue Cross and most HMO don't let you have different groups - as I have tried.) When I called them and requested that a pediatrician be my PCP: they came through after calling in a supervisor to override their computer system. (The other health plans wouldn't, I've tried.) The only issue was that Walgreens didn't accept them and I had to go to out of the way to RiteAid, but I believe that has changed. I saw a sign at Walgreens saying they now take Pacificare.

I've never used Pacificare for surgery, lab, x-rays, etc - so I can't say how good they are there. I delivered my baby with Healthnet (3 years ago) and there was no trouble with bills, the hospital, blood tests, etc. - all went well. Also had a cat scan (1 year ago) with Healthnet, and more ultrasounds just lately. All the big bills went through without any problems. Though I notice Healthnet costs have changed, I don't feel that they are skimping or would jeopardize one's health. Both companies are really great and better than most health plans out there (at least from my experience). They are both great choices. marian

When we were looking at plans we asked the billing office at our Dr.'s office which plans they were covered by and which they preferred dealing with. They were very forthcoming with useful info. susan

I just switched from HealthNet to Pacificare HMO, because I did not like the service my family received from HealthNet. The customer service department at HealthNet is not very good at explaining benefits/reasons for non-payment of physcian services. I had Pacificare a prior to HealthNet, and was satisfied with them. The reason I had switched had to do with changing employers, at the time they did not offer Pacificare, now they do so I have switched back. Lisa

Hello, I have no experience with Healthnet, but we have had PacifiCare for the past four years with mixed satisfaction. They were extremely unhelpful, in fact antagonistic, when I was pregnant and trying to switch medical groups from Alta Bates to Hills so that midwifery would be covered. However, when my son was born a month early and needed hospitilization for a week in NICU they covered absolutely every charge without even a co-pay. My entire prenatal, delivery and postnatal care was also fully covered. We have not had any problems getting referrals to specialists okayed, but we have had billing problems (they would not pay a lab bill for 6 months, saying it was the medical group's problem. It may have well been, but it seemed that they did nothing to try and resolve the problem).

One thing I found important with PacifiCare was that if I had a problem, being firm and talking to different people on different days helped. (So, is everyone acutally on the same page there or does it depend on the customer service representative as to what kind of service you get?!)

We are actually leaving PacifiCare because we are now eligible to receive health coverage through my husband's employer.

Good luck deciding. It seems like all of the companies out there are reducing services and charging more and more. Laura

If you know in advance that you or your family will need particular prescription drugs under Pacificare or Healthnet, I encourage you to review the drug formularies for each as part of your research. The drug coverages/exclusions made a difference for our family, even though our physicians accept insurance from both HMOs. I think both Pacificare and Healthnet have administrators rather than doctors making decisions about patient referrals. anon

I've had Pacificare (though UC) for 4+ years and have been happy with it. They are easy to reach by phone. And amazingly, there has never been any problems with claims (I've never even seen a bill!). The prescription service they use is less than wonderful, however. Gen

We've had both these HMOs within the past five years. We had a lot of trouble with Healthnet making careless errors and then taking months and months to fix them. Our experience with Pacificare has been great. Their customer service people are much more successful at resolving problems. Of course, I have no idea how representative our experience is. Good luck. Dana

I just wanted to follow-up on a post that a member made about HealthNet, she said that Healthnet doesn't let family members enroll in different medical groups. That is not the case, my husband and I are with Alta Bates Medical Group and my two children are with Hills Physicians. There was no problem anonymous

November 2001

I would like to hear people's experience with Healthnet and Pacificare. Pros and cons for each. It's open enrollment time and the recommendations on the UCB parents' site are old. Simona

Hi- I spent a lot (too much!) time in the hospital insurance biz, and generally I would say that the medical group is more important than the actual insurance company most of the time. It's the med grp that authorizes (or not) your medical care. If you should be unlucky enough to end up in a non-plan E.R., it's your medical group that you will have (most likely) hassles with regarding getting the bill paid. The carrier, however, may ultimately be responsible for the benefits under your plan, so if you are likely to want something exotic (infertility treatments are one example), you may wish to see if it is covered by the carrier. Hope this helps, -michael s.

We had a HUGE problem with Health Net when we took our daughter to the emergency room in Denver and HealthNet never paid the bill until we were threatened with collection and I went through the University health care facilitator. I was told that HealthNet and Alta Bates medical group were having a war, so neither would take responsibility for the bill and each one told me that the other party was responsible. I was very angry and have now switched to Pacificare, who, according to the University health care facilitator, has not had any problems like this so far. Toby

Sept 2001

If you are a University employee and use either HealthNet or PacificCare, would you please write about your experiences with your HMO. We currently have HealthNet, but have had some major billing problems with them over a relatively minor occurrence. We are thinking of switching to PacificCare, but want to ensure as much as possible that the same problems won't happen with them. I spoke to the University Health Facilitator and she said that HealthNet is having a dispute with Alta Bates Medical Group about who's supposed to pay which bills which is why she thinks I'm having a problem. She also said that she has not heard the same complaints from PacificCare users. Thanks. Toby

My husband and I have been with PacifiCare for about 5 years, I think, and we have never had any billing problems with them -- and this includes fairly complicated things like a series of neurological tests, and a visit to an emergency room in another state. Karen

I used to have HealthNet (5 years ago), and now I have Pacificare. I found neither one to be particularly easy to use. By dint of much hammering, we managed to get Pacificare to pay for a midwife-assisted birth, for instance, but it took a LOT of work. And right now I am engaged in a struggle with them over their formulary--they don't want to pay for any of the medications that my doctor wants to put me on. I have never had the kind of billing problems you describe, however. FYI: It may very well be that the problem is not with the insurance, but with Alta Bates Medical Associates. There is a sign up at our office (Berkeley Internal Medicine) that lists several insurances that they no longer accept, including Blue Cross, Aetna, and Lifeguard. My doctor also mentioned that another doctor in the practice is leaving because she works very hard, and doesn't get paid [enough]. All this, along with my experiences previously, seems to indicate to me a bad atmosphere in ABMA, and in the insurance industry as a whole. My doctor seems to think that things will get *much* worse before they get better.... Feel free to write me individually if you want more specific information on any of my interactions with Health Net or Pacificare. Dawn

I had an absolutely horrible experience with Pacificare when they were my primary insurance for eight months. They screwed up every claim (approximately 10) that was submitted to them, and it took me more than a year (after cancellation) to get everything resolved. Louise

I switched from Healthnet (or Healthnot as some call it) to Pacificare a few years ago and so far, so good. The switch was made because of a billing problem which I had one heck of a time resolving. I was visiting family in Oklahoma and developed an eye infection which resulted in having to visit the hospital on Christmas Day. I followed all procedures to the letter, contacted my doctor to approve care, etc., but Healthnet wouldn't cover the hospital bill. Everytime I spoke to a respresentative over the phone, they agreed that it should be covered and they would look into it. But every month I got another bill from the hospital, then finally from a collection agency. This went on for months, until I was finally able to speak to a supervisor and get it cleared up. The problem wasn't refusal of coverage, just sheer incompetancy, as far as I could make out. I wrote a number of letters to them, but never got an answer. I switched to Pacificare at the first opportunity, and so far have had no problems with billing, coverage, or anything else for the last 4 years. One Walgreens Drug Store I went to would not take Pacificare, but don't know if they still have that policy. Good luck on your decision. Dianna

I would recommend using Pacificare insurance. I had coverage for only 3 weeks before going into unexpected premature labor. This insuracne company has surprisingly paid for everything without a single complaint or problem, including an excessive and expensive 3-week hospital stay before and after my preterm labor, and the past two gruelling months of the (extremely expensive) neonatal intensive care unit for my son. I have had absolutely no problems with the insurance coverage and would recommend this insurance company and especially the Alta Bates medical group to anybody who is going to be having a child.


I'm a new postdoc here, with my wife. Our health insurance will be mostly (or completely, depending on the plan we are to take) paid by U.C. However, we're having difficulty in choosing a medical plan among those provided by U.C. (e.g. Health Net, Kaiser, PacifiCare, UC Care). We're living in El Cerrito, and plan to have a baby soon. Could you please kindly provide us with some suggestions regarding which plan to take, which medical group to join, which PCP to register to, etc. After some study of the information provided by U.C., we still feel very much confused.... I think planning on having a baby is our primary concern.

Questions about health insurance are best addressed by which doctor you wish to use. I have used both healthnet and pacificare at various jobs and my experience has been that they are virtually identical in terms of coverage. Right now, healthnet is the free one at UCB and pacificare costs $1.29 a month. I found both bueracracies similarly annoying.

Using them, you can pick your OB/GYN and pediatrician from one of the groups (around here it is Alta Bates or Hill Physicians (lots of recs on the UCB Parents Web Site)) and then use the hospital that they use (Alta Bates for ABMG, Summitt for Hill). Kaiser you use their doctors, at their facility, although now you deliver at AB. A lot of people like Kaiser because they have extended drop in clinic hours, so you don't have to get to sick kid appointments at the time. My best advice in terms of insurance is to figure out where you want to deliver your baby and work from there.

An additional note: AB and Summitt are trying to merge, so things may change and your choice for delivering your baby may end up being Alta Bates, no matter what you choose. There is an anti-trust trial in process which will decide this.