Winning in Open Enrollment Season
Tips on Saving Money and Finding the Best Plan
Let’s be frank: Health benefits are getting more and more expensive for both you and your employer. From last year alone, the cost of premiums for family coverage in 2011 rose 9 percent, or about four times higher than the average wage increase in the last year.
However—on the plus side—you likely are getting more choices of benefit options and your company is likely offering you free wellness programs to help you stay healthy.
Understanding what’s happening with health benefits is the first step for you to control your costs when open enrollment arrives this fall. With families paying more and more each year for health insurance, you need to take the time to consider options, such as a high-deductible health plan or other ways to lower your costs. [Read HK's "Your Health Benefits Pay Dividends"].
Four Steps to Save Money
Here’s how you can save a few dollars despite rising costs:
- Don’t shop on premium alone. Looking only at the amount taken out of your paycheck is not a good way to shop for health plans. Consider all of your different health plan choices. If you currently pay a high premium for comprehensive coverage, but don’t expect to use a lot of health services next year, consider a high-deductible health plan (which has lower premiums). Vice versa if you have a chronic condition or expect to need more care; in this case, you may want to opt for the lower deductible plan with higher premiums. If you had a typical year of healthcare costs, look at what you spent on coverage and medical care last year and estimate those costs under other plan offerings. Important: Understand how much you would pay out of pocket under a worst-case scenario.
- Take time to understand how your plan works. You can maximize your benefits by using in-network providers. Some plans reduce your costs further if you use so-called high performance doctors or hospitals. Two of the best ways to save money on prescriptions are to either always request generic versions or to order a bulk supply of your regular medicines through the mail. If you have diabetes or another chronic illness, see if your plan reduces your copay on maintenance drugs. Does your family have a history of cancer or heart disease? Check what the plan would cover if you are diagnosed with an illness.
- Use available tools and services offered by your health plan and employer. Plans offer a range of tools to help you stay healthy. Have a question about a condition? Call the nurse line. Increasingly, companies are offering incentives when you take a health risk assessment, get checkups or join disease management programs. [Read HK's "Firms Give Cash for Healthy Habits"]. Employers also are offering tools to compare the quality and cost of hospitals/doctors or are providing products like personal health records to help you manage your family’s care.
- Take care of yourself. The best way to save money is to stay healthy. Think of your body as an investment—keep it healthy through regular checkups, proper diet and exercise. [Read HK's "Eating Well for Adults" and "Let's Get Physical!"] Many employers and health plans cover most or all preventive services—use them! If you enrolled in a health plan created after March 23, 2010, you are eligible for free preventive services when your plan started its new policy year on or after Sept. 23, 2010. If your health plan is a grandfathered plan (it existed on March 23, 2010), that plan is not required to offer free preventive services. However, it may be doing so anyway.
Bottom line: Complacency, such as just staying in your current plan without fully checking out your options, could cost you money when it comes to health benefits and open enrollment.
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