Healthcare shopping season
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I'm getting a late start today because I spent the morning at the doctor's office for my annual checkup.
There's no need to go into detail here. Everybody knows the drill.
- You arrive on time.
- You sign in.
- You wait.
- You assure the business office that all your insurance information hasn't changed or, if it has, you refill out a dozen forms.
- You wait.
- You get called back to the exam area.
- You endure the worst part of the visit -- the nurse weighs you. Well, for me that's always the most painful part!
- You're ushered into a freezing exam room and told to undress.
- You wait, wishing you'd remembered to bring a sweater.
- The doctor comes in.
- The exam takes about 10 minutes.
- You go back through the business office and pay or co-pay.
An hour, hour and a half later, you're done.
If any lab tests are part of the procedure, you now get to wait and see what your insurance will or won't pay for and just how much, if any, it will pay. That statement of benefits is always a surprise, even if you think you know what the insurance company will cover.
The last time you got word from your insurance that you owed a lot more than you expected, after you stopped cursing you probably swore that as soon as you got the chance, you were going to change your healthcare coverage. For many of you, that chance is probably here or soon will be.
Office benefits open season: Fall is the traditional time for most companies' open enrollment season, during which workers can change their healthcare coverage options and sign up for other benefits they might have forgone last year.
In addition to health insurance, employers typically give workers the chance to obtain dental insurance; vision coverage; disability, life and long-term care insurance; flexible spending accounts that cover some of your medical and/or dependent care costs; and 401(k) plans. Most workplaces give you the option to pay for these benefits via a cafeteria plan, in which you select only those benefits that are important to you and your family.
Even better, benefits under a cafeteria plan typically offer you some tax savings. Your employee portion of the cost of your selected benefits generally is not subject to Social Security, unemployment, Medicare or income tax withholding.
Be a careful shopper: Most of us, though, aren't thinking about tax savings during benefit open enrollment. We're looking at what our choices will mean to our paychecks. It's a balancing act. You want to get the appropriate insurance coverage, put away some retirement savings and still make sure that you bring home enough each week, or every other week or month to cover your everyday, real-life expenses.
It seems that your employee portion of benefits, especially healthcare coverage, goes up every year. That's why some workers opt for the plan in which they pay the least. That's not necessarily a bad strategy, as long as you make sure that it really meets your personal needs.
A policy that takes a little less from your paycheck could end up costing you a lot if its coverage is limited and you or a family member gets sick. Do you take regular prescriptions? Then make sure that the plan you pick covers a big part of those costs. A cheaper premium might be quickly offset by larger Rx co-pays.
Does your child need a lot of vaccinations? Or is he or she at that age when ear infections seem to appear weekly? Does your spouse encounter chronic allergy issues that need medical treatment? If you opt for a large deductible to minimize your premium costs, but then end up making a lot of doctor office visits, you could find yourself paying a lot out of pocket before your insurance coverage kicks in.
The human resources company Hewitt Associates recommends that you look at your benefit choices holistically, as part of a comprehensive annual checkup of your overall finances. That way you can better determine how your workplace benefits can enhance your circumstances. The company offers more open season tips here.
The key: Make informed choices, not easy or penny-wise-pound-foolish ones.
Sit down with your husband, wife or partner, since some companies offer benefits to workers' significant others regardless of gender or marital status, and make sure you know exactly what you need and want in the way of benefits.
Be afraid, be very afraid: While I was waiting to see my doctor, I thumbed through the lobby magazines and ran across an interesting article in the print version of WebMD on phobias.
In addition to discussing these medically-designated fears, why so many of us have one or more of them and how we can conquer them, the article had a list of some common and not-so-common phobias.
You obviously don't have logizomechanophoia since you're reading this blog. That big word simply means fear of computers.
Do storms freak you out? Then you might have astrapophobia, fear of lightning, or brontophobia, fear of thunder. Sometimes either term is used to describe the combined fear of both meteorological phenomena, as is the term karaunophobia. Hmmm ... so the supposed thundering sound of gigantic brontosaurus footsteps is how that dinosaur got its name, eh?
Graffiti artists obviously don't suffer from scriptophobia, fear of writing in public. Or maybe they do, since they tend to make their marks when no one is looking.
Maybe I can plead koniopobia, fear of dust, when the hubby starts questioning my housekeeping skills. Or cyclophobia, fear of bicycles, when he suggests we get some two-wheeled exercise and I'm feeling particularly lazy.
But I don't think I'll ever be able to find a way to work zemmiphobia into any scenario, or at least I hope not. That's fear of the great mole rat. And I'm afraid to ask why or how this creature got its own specific phobia designation!
For more fears, check out this phobia list, or this one or this one. Apparently, we humans are an incredibly scared species.
Just don't make fun of anyone's phobia. Even when a person realizes that a fear is irrational, it still is real to that individual. This fact sheet from the National Mental Health Association discusses phobias and treatment options, as do these Web pages of the National Phobics Society and Mayo Clinic.
And if you have a phobia and want help beating it, make sure that the healthcare coverage you select this open season will pay for at least some of the treatment.
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