As inflation in the U.S. remains high, you may be looking to adjust your lifestyle and spending habits. But when it comes to health care, it’s important to keep your budget and well-being in mind.
This year’s open-enrollment season is a good chance to review how you’re using health services and decide whether you’ll stick with the plan you’ve got or switch to another being offered. It’s also an opportunity to assess your overall care costs to help ensure you choose a plan that will work best for next year’s budget.
Enrollment timing: For people with coverage from their employer, open enrollment typically happens during a two-week or three-week period between September and December. For those eligible for Medicare, the Medicare Annual Enrollment Period runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year. Coverage selections made during the fall will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Here are seven tips to consider when choosing a plan that may help lead you to better health and cost savings:
1. Consider all your options. Take time to understand and compare the benefits, services, and costs of each plan available to you, so you can figure out which will be the best fit. Pay attention to more than just the monthly premium — like what out-of-pocket costs, including the deductible, copays. and coinsurance, you may be responsible for.
Medicare members and caregivers: As you weigh your options, ensure you’re familiar with the difference between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. If you need a review, visit MedicareEducation.com — an online resource with answers to questions about eligibility, plan choices, cost basics, prescription coverage and more.
2. Learn the language. If you’re overwhelmed by or unsure about certain health-care terms, there are resources to help. As a start, check out UnitedHealth Group’s Just Plain Clear Glossary (https://justplainclear.com/en) (in English, Spanish and Portuguese) to help you make informed decisions.
Medicare members and caregivers: There’s a lot to learn about Medicare and Medicare Made Clear can help you understand the basics, the complexities and everything in between.
3. Help prevent financial surprises. Visiting doctors that are in-network is one way to help keep your costs lower. So before selecting a plan, check to see if your doctor is in your health plan’s provider network. Also, make sure your medications will be covered by the plan you choose next year — even if you don’t expect to change plans. Look into filling your prescriptions at a participating network pharmacy or with home delivery by mail — two more potentially money-saving options.
Medicare members and caregivers: You may be surprised to learn original Medicare doesn’t generally cover prescription drugs. Consider adding Part D or enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription-drug coverage to help keep your medication costs in check.
4. Check for mental-health coverage. In addition to in-person mental health care, you may have access to a large virtual network of therapists and psychiatrists. Some health insurers also offer advocacy services to help you find the right type of behavioral health care.
Medicare members and caregivers: Look for plans that offer virtual mental health care with a $0 copay.
5. Don’t forget about specialty benefits. Additional benefits, such as dental, vision, hearing, or critical illness insurance, are often available and may contribute to overall well-being.
Medicare members and caregivers: You may be surprised that original Medicare doesn’t cover most dental, vision and hearing services, but many Medicare Advantage plans do.
6. Look into wellness programs. Many health plans offer incentives that reward you for taking healthier actions, such as completing a health survey, exercising, or avoiding nicotine.
Medicare members and caregivers: Many Medicare Advantage plans also offer gym memberships and wellness programs for members at no additional cost.
7. Explore virtual-care services. If you’re busy or just prefer connecting with a doctor from the convenience of your home, consider choosing a plan that includes 24/7 virtual care. You may have access to virtual wellness visits, urgent care, and chronic condition management.
Medicare members and caregivers: Most Medicare Advantage plans provide access to virtual care, which can be an easier, more affordable way to talk with doctors about common health issues on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Junior Harewood is CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New York.