By LISA MONTI
The annual open enrollment process can be a dreaded chore for some employees who are choosing insurance options for the upcoming year.
Experts, though, say it’s vital for employees to do their homework to ensure that they make the best decisions regarding their individual and family insurance coverage.
Christine O’Brien, vice president of sales and account management for UnitedHealthcare in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, offered some tips to help make the most of the open enrollment season.
“The first and most important tip is for you to take the time to review all of your options,” she said. And it’s best to consider more than the premium price, she said.
“Many times when people are faced with this type of decision they go down to the bottom line, look at the cost and make their decision purely based on cost,” she said.
But getting the cheapest insurance might end up being costly if it means a higher deductible or co-pay. Another drawback is that your doctor may not be in the plan or your medical condition may not be covered.
“It’s important not to just look at the bottom line cost but also to dig deeper into what makes up the cost,” O’Brien said.
Likewise, the most expensive insurance may not translate to the best coverage for you. A midlevel plan with a slightly higher deductible may work better, depending on your needs.
“You might not necessarily need the level of coverage with that higher cost so our recommendation is that you really take the time and do your homework, make sure you understand what is tied to that premium,” she said. “So when you actually do need care and go to the doctor you understand ahead of time what your deductible and your out of pocket expense will be.”
O’Brien also advises to look for incentive-based wellness plans offered in the health plans. Some programs offer the opportunity to have a health savings account and if you contribute to that they may offer incentives such as a reduction in your premium.
UnitedHealthcare’s own United Motion is a wellness program that gives employees a free walking tracker and they can earn financial incentives to their health savings accounts by meeting walking goals.
“We encourage people to utilize their wellness plans and look for any wellness based incentives in their health plans,” she said.
Employees should take advantage of any health-care apps and online tools that their provider offers, O’Brien said.
United Healthcare’s Health 4 Me mobile app features a health-care cost estimator with a list of network providers in a certain area.
“Most of us are used to not knowing the cost of care until we actually get the bill or the explanation of benefits. This app allows you to compare costs from several different providers for the set procedures,” she said. “You are able to make an informed decision on where to get care before you actually go and get the care.”
O’Brien said employees should consider opening a health savings account because it offers a triple tax advantage. The money is deposited into the account from their paycheck on a pretax basis. Once the account reaches a certain balance, it begins to earn tax free interest. And when the money is withdrawn for qualified expenses, it is tax free.
O’Brien also recommends that employees consider other health benefits that are available to them, including dental and vision insurance.
“Many times, they can detect other health-care needs. For example, an eye exam can identify chronic conditions such as diabetes,” she said. “Dental is the same way. There is a connection between oral health and overall health.”