For most people fall is open enrollment season for health insurance offered through their employer. This is the time to review coverage and options and to make changes that suit your needs. Your decisions can affect how much or how little you pay in health insurance and related costs for the entire year, so don't blow it off. The following tips can help you choose the plan that's right for you at a price that won't wear you down.
1. Review your health insurance plan.
Many people just let their health insurance renew from one year to the next without looking it over. Big mistake. Health insurance plans change and even a slight tweak may mean higher costs in the form of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Also, your health situation may be changing. One year you may need more coverage and the next year you may need less. There's no reason to pay for coverage you won't use.
2. Review other health insurance plans.
Make sure you're choosing the right health insurance plan by checking out all the plans your employer offers. Tally up your family's healthcare needs in a typical year, including prescriptions, estimated doctor visits, vision needs, dental needs, and other usual procedures. Compare how the available health insurance plans stack up for these services. If you're married or have a domestic partner, check out the health insurance plans offered at their workplace. These options may be better than yours and you may save on premiums and co-pays by switching.
Some employers offer the choice between a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).
- HMO: A type of health insurance plan with generally lower out-of-pocket costs but limits on the healthcare providers you're allowed to visit. A good choice if your doctors are on the approved list.
- PPO: A type of health insurance plan with typically higher deductibles and premiums but more choice about which healthcare professional you see and where you are seen.
3. Consider a high deductible health insurance plan.
Both The Wall Street Journal and Parents.com suggest opting for a high deductible plan if your family is relatively healthy and makes infrequent trips to the doctor or hospital. Although the deductible is higher with these health insurance plans, premiums are generally lower and you qualify for a health savings account (HSA). An HSA allows you or your employer to put away money pretax for health related expenses (i.e., draw on the account to help pay your premiums and deductibles). Any money left at the end of the year can be rolled over to the following year.
4. Take advantage of wellness programs and additional perks.
Many companies are offering wellness programs to employees. Why? The healthier you are the lower the cost of health insurance (both the company's share and yours). Take advantage of these free and beneficial offerings because they help you in several ways. Aside from keeping you healthy and health insurance costs in check, wellness programs sometimes translate into money for your HSA. For example, some companies offer free physicals for employees and some provide online health screenings with personalized recommendations on how to improve your health; participants in these and similar programs are often rewarded with deposits into their HSA accounts. Additionally, some companies offer discounted gym memberships, pay in full for all well and preventative doctor appointments, and even stock the break room with healthy snacks. If you're a smoker, however, be prepared to pay up in the form of health insurance premium surcharges.
5. Strive to stay healthy.
It's a fact, healthy people pay less for healthcare. While you may have the same health insurance plan as someone with a condition like type 2 diabetes, you'll pay less overall because you'll visit the doctor less often and need less medication. So keep yourself healthy. Stop smoking now - as mentioned above, many companies charge smokers more for health insurance than non-smokers because smoking is associated with health complications. You can manage your weight by exercising regularly and following a healthy diet, which has the added benefit of staving off some chronic diseases. And finally, protect yourself from germs and a visit to the doctor for a sick appointment by washing your hands frequently.