Health Insurance Open Enrollment Tips
Many Mainers have more than just candidates to choose from at this time of year. For employees in companies that offer a health insurance benefit, November is usually the time of the year when they have to choose among a variety of health insurance plan options to go into effect in 2009.
Many Maine companies offer between two and eight choices of health insurance plans. The options will usually have different costs to the employee both in the amount deducted from their paycheck and the total cost of the coverage for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance over the course of the year.
Studies have shown that consumers typically do more research when buying a car or a major appliance then they do in selecting a health insurance plan. These studies also indicate that most people spend an hour or less reviewing their insurance plan options and often just default to the plan they have had the previous year.
"It's a mistake not to look carefully at your plan options each year and carefully weigh which plan is the best fit for you and your family," said Dan Corcoran, president, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Corcoran noted that often consumers will choose the plan that has the least impact on their pay check when that choice may not be the best choice overall.
Plans with higher monthly premiums and lower co-pays and deductibles might be best for those who anticipate using a lot of health care services over the course of the year. On the other hand, young and healthy people without kids might save with a plan that features low premiums and a high deductible.
But there are always tradeoffs. For example, a lower cost plan may have more "pre-authorization" requirements in order to see a specialist.
Here are some general consumer tips for choosing a health insurance plan:
1. Do your homework and take advantage of the tools offered to you. For example, your company may offer benefit plan meetings where you can ask questions and compare plan options. A little time invested in this meeting can pay help you choose the best plan for your family's needs.
2. Examine your family's past health care spending. The best way to determine a good plan fit for 2009 is to understand what health care services your family used this year.
3. Before continuing on your current plan, read the detail. Many employees will carry over their plan choice from year to year without examining the details - have the co-pays and deductibles increased? Often employers will change these levels as a result of the increasing cost of health care services. It pays to read the detail.
4. Verify in advance that your physician and hospital are part of the network for the plan you are choosing. This is especially important if you are switching your insurance company or and you are switching to a different health plan.
5. Take advantage of your health care flexible spending account, if appropriate. Health care flexible spending accounts use pre-tax dollars to help pay health care expenses like co-pays and deductibles but you must carefully estimate and use all the money in these accounts during the course of the year.
"In the past, you may have quickly looked over your benefit statement and chosen the same plan for next year or not done anything and defaulted into your previous year's selection," said Corcoran. "But this year, with all the economic pressures consumers are facing, it makes sense to really study your plan options to best meet your family's needs."