LETTER: Understanding health care options can save you money

Friday, October 3, 2008 | 9:17 a.m. CDT; updated 11:43 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

In recent months, people across Missouri have been further impacted by our nation's new economic struggles. Unfortunately, people and their families are losing their jobs and homes, and facing increasing uncertainty in today's market. It goes without saying that we all need to make well-informed decisions on how we spend our money, now and in the future.

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Health care spending is one area where people are looking to make budget cuts. The rising cost of health care should encourage everyone to explore their health benefit options. But despite rough economic times, opting out of health insurance plans all together can prove to be a costly mistake when unexpected health issues and medical emergencies arise. Instead of foregoing health benefits all together, options exist that can help save you money.

In fact, today's health plan consumers are in a better position than ever before to make more informed choices about which health plan is best for them in terms of cost and benefits. Health care is complicated, but knowing what you need and can afford for your coverage will impact the value you receive from your health benefits and can give you a leg up economically.

About this time of year every year, people and families who purchase health insurance through an employer typically receive email notices that the 6- to 8-week open enrollment period for health benefits has arrived. And every year, many of these e-mails are deleted before you can say "deductible." But this year, it could pay to actually read that e-mail and evaluate your choices.

According to recent research released by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's parent company, WellPoint, the following questions could help you choose the plan that's right for you:

  • What is my household's current and anticipated health care service usage? What are the kinds of things we will need?
  • What are my out-of-pocket expenses and monthly premium costs? Does is it make sense for me to pay a higher premium for lower out-of-pockets, or vice versa?
  • Prescriptions are one of the most utilized benefits. What coverage is provided by the plans I'm evaluating? Are my current prescriptions covered and at what level?
  • Are there less costly but equally effective alternatives my doctor can suggest?
  • How much will it cost me if an emergency situation occurs?

Consumers who take the time to answer and explore these questions may find that they do not have a health plan that matches their needs. For example, if you expect to incur high health care and prescription costs over the course of the year, you would likely want to choose a more comprehensive plan that offers full coverage. However, for those people who are relatively healthy, they may choose a plan with lower premiums or select a consumer driven plan as a way to save their money tax-free for a "rainy day."

Employers are also looking for opportunities to help keep costs down — for the company and for their employees. More and more employers are now offering so-called wellness initiatives through the insurance they provide their employees. These may include smoking cessation courses, discounted gym memberships and weight management seminars, and access to programs designed to encourage employees to live healthier lifestyles and decrease the need for chronic care or late disease. When making your health plan decisions, determine whether your company or insurance plan offers these types of initiatives.

As tough economic times continue to dominate many of our conversations — as a nation and at the dinner table — exploring your health benefit options during this open enrollment period may result in financial benefits. Ask questions, access all of your resources and arm yourself with the information you'll need to navigate what can be complicated health care terrain.

A little time and a few key questions could save you a lot of money.


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