The weeks leading up to Advent and Christmas come with a flurry of activity, and your healthcare benefits may be the farthest thing from your mind. But whether you have a choice in health plans or not (or have a brief window of open enrollment in which to make changes), thinking ahead to how you’ll use your benefits can save you money in the coming year.
Ready to dive in? Below are some things to consider:
Read up on all plans offered
Ask for plan materials from your benefits administrator, and check out the websites of any health plans that are offered. Your benefits administrator may have an online tool to help you compare plan choices, too. If it’s available, use it!
Look to see whether your share of the monthly premium for employer-based health insurance is increasing. That’s the amount of money taken directly from your wages. If you can’t afford the premium for your current plan, consider less expensive coverage options from your employer or an individually-purchased plan.
Deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket costs
Since your real health care costs involve more than just monthly premiums, check to see whether your plan’s copayment amounts for prescription drugs or office visits have changed. Look at the annual deductible too, and your annual out-of-pocket maximum. Sometimes rising premiums are offset by increasing your liability in other cost-sharing categories. (Cost saving tip: be sure to ask the doctors who prescribe your medications whether there is a generic version of the drug you are taking, and if so, whether it is a good alternative for you. Generics are typically less expensive than brand drugs.)
Changes to your benefits
As a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, you may now be eligible to receive additional benefits and options, such as keeping your child on your health plan until the age of 26. Find out what is changing, and when. Also: know your rights and protections. Find out what insurance companies can and cannot do when it comes to changing or cancelling your coverage.
Spouses and dependents
Make sure your employer is still extending coverage to spouses and dependents, or whether they have changed their contributions toward dependents’ monthly premiums. If you have an adult child under the age of 26 on your plan, find out how much is contributed toward his or her monthly premiums and compare that with the price of other coverage options. If your spouse has employer-sponsored coverage too, find out if it’s more cost-effective to insure all or certain family members under your spouse’s plan instead.
Learn plan features you do and don’t want
Try the Health Plan Matchmaker tool. It helps you pick plan features that are most important to you. Just thinking about your health needs outside of medical care covered under a standard plan — like dental or vision — can help you choose the right plan for all of your health care needs.
Make a list of the benefits you used (and didn’t use)
If, for example, you visit your family doctor much more often than specialists, a plan with referrals and lower costs may be your best option. When you figure out what parts of your plan you use most (and what you don’t) you can spend your health care dollars where you really need them.
Your health care needs
Have your own or your family’s health care needs changed over the last year? If the answer is yes, it may be time to consider a health insurance plan with a different balance of benefits. Find out which private insurance plans, public programs and community services are available to you.
Budget for future health care costs
Consider a health savings account (HSA) or a flexible spending account (FSA). These are two types of health funds that let you save money to pay for certain medical expenses tax-free. When deciding on the amount of money to put into the account for 2013, keep in mind that you have until December 31st of the same year to spend it on eligible expenses, or the remaining balance will be forfeited.
Explore all your benefits options
Even if you have only one choice for a health plan, look for anything else you’re entitled to. For example, find out if your health plan offers discounts for services like dental care or eyewear. These programs aren’t insurance. But they can offer great savings on services you’re already paying for.
Here’s to a healthy 2013!
–Dwight Tucker (posted by Melanie Kolkin)
Photo by Alan Cleaver/Flickr