Guest Columnist

Make the most of your health plan

Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The holiday season is at hand, and many Iowans already are making year-end plans to travel and celebrate with friends and family. Yet there is one year-end plan that often is overlooked: taking steps to make the most of your health benefits. Doing so could help improve your health and save you money.

Here are five health tips to consider before the end of the year:

GET AHEAD OF HEALTH ISSUES

People with employer-sponsored, individual, Medicare and Medicaid plans have access to a slew of preventive services that can help detect diseases and encourage well-being. Take advantage of the various health screenings — such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression — and timely vaccines, such as the flu shot, that are available through your health plan before year’s end. Doing so now might give you a head-start on those healthy New Year’s resolutions. Check with your health plan because many eligible preventive services are available at no additional cost, as long they are delivered by care providers in your plan’s network.

DELAY NONEMERGENCY SERVICES

A growing number of employers and consumers are choosing health plans with higher deductibles; in fact, almost 45 percent of Americans are enrolled in such plans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If this applies to you, check whether you have reached or exceeded your deductible, which is the amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in. If not, it might make sense to delay nonemergency services, such as a joint replacement, until 2019. The cost for those services then would apply to your 2019 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, increasing the likelihood that your health plan would pay for more of your medical expenses for the remainder of the year.

SCHEDULE RECOMMENDED HEALTH SERVICES

The opposite is true if you already have reached your deductible. In this case, check with your health care professional to schedule recommended medical services. Those probably will be covered (all or in part) by your health plan. If possible, tell your health care professional that you’ve reached your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, and see whether there’s any needed follow-up care that can be arranged before year’s end.

UNDERSTAQND YOUR SPENDING ACCOUNTS

Many people have spending accounts with funds earmarked for health care services. Health savings accounts offer tax advantages, and the money can roll over from year to year. If you contribute money to your HSA before year’s end, you can help pay for qualified medical services next year or even later while lowering your taxable income for 2018. On the other hand, flexible spending accounts require the money be spent before the year ends, and unused balances are not rolled over into the next calendar year. So if you have money left in your FSA and you need to order contact lenses, schedule a dental cleaning or refill prescriptions, for example, now’s the time to do that.

PREPARE TO USE YOUR 2019 BENEFITS

This year’s open enrollment season is wrapping up. According to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 40 percent said they devoted less than one hour to the process, meaning they might not have explored some of the many options available to them. Before the year is out, take time to review your health plan and check with your employer’s human resources department to determine what well-being incentives or other resources might be available when 2019 starts. Nearly 75 percent of employers offer well-being programs, with an average incentive of $742 annually, according to a recent study by the National Business Group on Health. By finding out now what incentives are available to you, you can help prepare yourself to start earning all or some of those rewards starting New Year’s Day.

• Rebecca Madsen is chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare

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