Friday, December 14, 2012

From Mistletoe to Root Canals: Have a Better Health Plan for 2013

For many people, December conjures up an image of family time and relaxation as the year comes to a close. And while that’s the ultimate goal, December seems to throw a lot of obstacles in our way to that winter peace.

With the holiday season comes a stress level all its own. Will it be possible to get the family together for the holiday card photo sometime before January? Do you use your mother or mother-in-law’s Latke recipe? Do you really need to spend $50 on a new Furby for your nephew, or can you just re-gift the one your child stopped playing with 10 years ago?

If the holidays weren’t enough to drive you crazy, the end of the year puts you face-to-face with the past January’s good health intentions. You put enough money in your health savings account for that root canal and you were going to plan your annual dermatologist checkup and yearly mammogram. But then life happened, and that big meeting came up when you were thinking of calling the dentist, and the kids needed you to make something for the bake sale the morning you were going to schedule your appointments. Now it’s December 14 and between the Christmas cookies and holiday shopping, you’re trying to squeeze in that appointment to have your teeth drilled or that adjustment at the chiropractor to avoid losing the $400 you socked away in your health savings account.

We’ve all been there. As they say, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. But this year, I have a solution for you. It may not clear up the latke showdown, but it can make your 2013 health plan flow a bit smoother.

This January, make a list of all your preventative care screenings. Once you get them all in one place, pick a logical date, month, time of year, etc. that will help you remember when to schedule your appointments. For example: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – call now to make your appointment for October 1. Or, in May, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer (it’s also Skin Cancer Awareness Month), get to the dermatologist for your yearly skin check and stop at the drug store afterward to stock up on sunscreen. Or, pick the first week of the New Year or your birth month – whatever date or time of year to that you can attach some meaning to as a way to help you remember to make – and make it to –your appointments.

‘Tis the season for making lists, so what better time than now to take a few moments and plan out your 2013 year in health.  You’ll be able to avoid an end-of-year mad dash to the doctor and stop worrying about having to decide between your health and money.


With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there has never been a better time to organize your preventive care visits, for which, thanks to the new law, there is either no cost or a co-pay. Check out this UHC TV video for some clarification on what’s considered preventive care.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Employees like specialty benefits

I’ve lost track of how many times I’m asked by small business owners, “how can I cut my health care costs?”  Many businesses looking to cut employee health care costs sometimes consider eliminating specialty benefits like vision, dental, disability, life insurance, critical illness, and accident; if they offer them at all.

But there really is no reason why employers can’t add specialty benefits to the health plan they offer employees without raising their own costs.

Many health insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, now offer packages that allow employees to select from several plans, with the employer paying a set amount and employees picking up the difference if they select more expensive plans. With this plan structure, sometimes referred to as a “private exchange,” it is easy for employers to add specialty benefits options to the mix without incurring any additional costs.

And, there is a very good reason to offer specialty benefits: employees like them!  Surveys show that they help to attract and retain employees and also improve morale.  Specialty benefits are especially attractive to employees in special situations, such as someone with two teenagers who need braces or a middle-aged person whose vision is slowly diminishing. They can even help an employer’s bottom line. For example, an effective disability program can return people to work and improve a company’s productivity.

Health insurers continue to introduce new specialty benefits to the marketplace.  The most recent innovation is critical illness coverage. Critical illness insurance pays cash benefits for living expenses and out-of-pocket medical costs if covered employees or family members contract a specific illness or condition such as cancer, heart attack, stroke or paralysis. Another recent innovation is the introduction of Accident insurance; a policy that pays cash benefits for medical care resulting from an accident. Both products can be combined with a traditional or high deductible health plan to help offset a member’s potential out-of-pocket costs from deductibles and coinsurance.

Offering specialty benefits as part of the menu of options that an employee can select maximizes the effectiveness of a company’s health care dollars. A suite of voluntary benefits offered alongside medical insurance enables the employee to focus the employer’s contribution towards his or her family’s specific needs.

Finally, when evaluating voluntary options, look for a company that offers low participation requirements and a comprehensive enrollment program to help you communicate these benefits to your employees. 

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