Tips for selecting the right health benefits
Fall signals the start of many annual traditions — a new school year, football season, and holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving. Fall is also the season for another important annual tradition: open enrollment, when many people have an opportunity to select or change their health benefits for the following year.
With the vast majority of Americans — approximately 155 million — obtaining health benefits through their employer, it's an important time to ensure you make choices that support your and your family's needs.
Selecting the right health benefits can feel challenging, but reviewing the available options and choosing carefully can help you find solutions that can work for you and help you make more informed choices that may improve your health and even save money.
To make open enrollment season easier, consider these five tips.
Take time to review your options: Don't wait until the last minute to make your benefit elections or rush through the process. Instead, start early and get your questions answered. Your employers and health plan representatives are available to help with the process. Remember there's more to each plan than co-payments, deductibles and premiums. Take a few minutes to check if your doctor is in the plan's care provider network and that your prescriptions are covered.
Look for incentive-based wellness programs: Some health plans, including UnitedHealthcare, offer wellness programs that enable people to earn financial incentives — such as lower premium costs or deductible credits — for completing health assessments, signing up for a health coaching program, lowering cholesterol, going to a gym or even using a fitness tracker to monitor daily walking patterns. These incentives can help save you money, in some cases up to $1,500 a year, and encourage you and your family to practice healthier behaviors.
Take advantage of health care apps and online tools: Many health plans have created apps and online resources to help people locate a health care professional or check if their doctors are in-network, compare treatment costs, review claims and find more information about their health plans. For instance, the Health4Me app (available for Apple and Android devices) makes it possible for all consumers to comparison shop based on quality and cost for more than 875 common medical services across nearly 600 health events.
Open a Health Savings Account: More employers are offering health plans that include a Health Savings Account option. An HSA is like a personal bank account specifically for health-related expenses — you own all the money in it, including contributions from your employer. HSAs offer a triple tax advantage: money is deposited pre-tax from your paycheck and accrues interest tax-free, and withdrawals are not taxed as long as funds are used for qualified health-related expenses.
Don't overlook other important benefits available to you: Specialty benefits, such as dental, vision, accident or critical illness insurance plans, are often lower-cost options that can protect you and your family from head to toe. Research shows a connection between oral health and overall health, so adding a dental plan may help prevent larger medical problems. A vision plan may offer eye exams that can identify chronic conditions like diabetes, and offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses. Critical illness plans can provide important financial benefits for unexpected health situations.
Many employers conduct open enrollment during a two- to three-week period between September and December, so now is the time to learn about your health benefit options. A little extra time spent today can pay off next year in having a plan that works for you.
For help navigating open enrollment, visit UnitedHealthcare's new online resource Health Care ABCs (www.uhc.com/healthcareabcs), which provides easy-to understand information about health benefits and health care topics so people can make the right choices for themselves and their families.
By Neal Galinko is the Medical Director at UnitedHealthcare of New England.