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Open enrollment

How Employers Can Help Curb Health Care Costs During Open Enrollment

Technology continues to reshape how employers select and offer health care benefits to employees, putting access to information at our fingertips and creating a more seamless and interactive health care experience. At the same time, these advances may help employees become savvier users of health care, helping simplify and personalize their journey toward health and, in the process, help curb costs for employers.

The revolution can be important to remember during open-enrollment, which occurs during the fall, when millions of Americans select or switch their health benefits for 2019. With that in mind, here are five tips employers should be aware of during open enrollment and year-round:

Make Sense of Big Data: Big data is a buzzword, but the applications are only meaningful if employers can make sense of that information. To help with that, employers are gaining access to online resources to help enable them to more easily analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical and prescription claims, demographics, and clinical and well-being information. This can provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored clinical management and employee-engagement programs, which may help improve health outcomes, mitigate expenses, and help employees take charge of their health.    
Help People Understand Their Options: More than three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health care terms, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. In fact, only 6 percent of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum. To support employees during open enrollment, employers can adopt online platforms designed to personalize and simplify the experience to help people select a health plan based on their personal health and financial needs, while encouraging them to select a primary care physician and enroll in programs such as smoking cessation or weight loss. Employers can also promote to employees resources such as JustPlainClear.com, which provides definitions for thousands of health care terms.    

Encourage Your People to Move More: An estimated 35 percent of employers now integrate wearable devices into their well-being programs, helping employees more accurately understand their daily activity levels. As these programs become more common, there may be opportunities for cost-savings for companies and their workforces. For instance, some wearable device wellness programs may enable people to earn more than $1,000 per year by meeting certain daily walking goals, while employers can achieve premium renewal discounts based on the aggregate walking results of their employees.  

Incent and Help Employees Comparison Shop for Care: More than one-third (36 percent) of Americans say they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to the UnitedHealthcare survey. To encourage employees to participate in this trend, some employers are offering financial incentives – such as $25 or $50 gift cards – to employees for using health care transparency resources. Health care quality and cost varies widely within a city or neighborhood, so encouraging the use of online and mobile transparency resources may yield savings for employers and employees.

Integrate Medical and Ancillary Benefits: Open enrollment is also the time for people to select important ancillary benefits, such as vision, dental and disability coverage. While some people may overlook these plans, offering this coverage as part of an employee’s menu of benefits options may maximize the effectiveness of a company’s health care dollars, provide families with added peace of mind and help build a culture of health. Combining medical and ancillary benefits under a single health plan may enable for the integrated analysis of a wide range of data that can facilitate proactive outreach and clinical support for employees, including for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or to help prevent the development of such conditions.

Prepare for Open Enrollment and Save on Health Care Costs

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Texans covered by employer-sponsored health insurance plans and Medicare will soon select or switch their health benefits for 2018 during open enrollment periods. Consider the following tips as your open enrollment approaches:

1. Know your open enrollment dates
Open enrollment isn’t the same day or at the same time for everyone:

  • For the more than 177 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.
  • For the more than 58 million seniors and other people enrolled in Medicare, open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.
  • Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment is Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

2. Take time to review your options
Every person or family has unique health and budget needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a health plan. Take the time to explore your options, and understand the benefits and costs of each plan so you can find the coverage that works best for you and your family members.

  • Check if your current coverage still meets your needs and if your benefits will change next year.
  • Determine if the plan is a good fit for your budget, and pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance.
  • Make sure your medications are covered. Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to ensure your prescriptions will still be covered next year.

3. Make sure your doctor is in your plan’s care provider network
Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any doctor you see regularly – or plan to visit in the coming year – is in your benefit plan’s care provider network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside of the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from a network care provider because those costs will most likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues. Often, telehealth – defined as online or virtual visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone – is available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, as well as select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits may provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

4. Don’t forget about additional benefits
Additional benefits such as dental, vision, accident or critical-illness insurance are often affordable options that can protect you and your family. For people enrolled in Medicare, many are surprised to find that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. However, many Medicare Advantage plans do.

5. Take advantage of wellness programs.
Some health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or quitting smoking. These programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices and being more engaged in improving their health.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit UHCOpenEnrollment.com for articles and videos with easy-to-understand information about health benefits and health insurance terms.

5 Tips for Selecting the Right Health Benefits

5-tips-for-selecting-the-right-health-benefits-image-1Fall 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 you 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Open a Health Savings Account: More employers are offering health plans that include a Health Savings Account (HSA) 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.
  5. 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.

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.

Dave Milich, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of South Texas, discusses ways consumers can make the most of their open enrollment.

Dave Milich, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of South Texas
Dave Milich, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of South Texas