Look past coverage fee in health plan
It's almost time for open enrollment season to begin, as employers unveil next year's health care options to workers.
For most of us, there won't be major changes. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our homework before choosing a plan.
"In general, most employers are not making broad changes to their plans for this year coming up," said Craig Rosenberg, practice leader of Health and Welfare Benefits Administration at consulting firm Aon Hewitt.
However, many will see subtle changes. And if your company hasn't yet introduced a consumer-driven health plan, you could be in for a surprise.
"Consumer-driven health plans have been around over a decade now, but a lot of workers haven't been exposed to one," said Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. "They may be offered it for the first time."
Consumer-driven plans typically combine high-deductible health insurance with a tax-advantaged savings account that can be used to pay qualifying health care expenses.
According to Aon Hewitt's 2014 Health Care survey, consumer-driven health plans are the second most popular plan choice offered by employers. At some companies, such a health plan is the only option.
Here are some other changes to watch for:
Health care costs rise: Employees will continue to bear more of the cost burden through higher premiums, deductibles and added fees to cover the spouse.
"The trend that we're seeing here overall is that employers are increasingly subsidizing coverage," Rosenberg said. "They're starting to cut back on how much they're subsidizing the portion of coverage that relates to dependents."
Fronstin said workers will likely have to pay extra to cover their spouse or partner on the employee's health policy.
"Most employers haven't introduced them (spousal surcharges), so a lot of workers are going to see them for the first time," he said.
The Aon Hewitt survey found that 22 percent of employers have reduced subsidies for covered dependents, while 18 percent added a surcharge for adult dependents with access to other health coverage. An additional half of employers surveyed are exploring such approaches over the next few years.
The survey looked at more than 1,230 employers covering more than 10 million employees. If your spouse has health care coverage available through his or her employer, it might be good to study your options.
"In many cases you will find that other coverage might be a better deal," Rosenberg said. "Make sure you look beyond just the price of the coverage."
Look at factors, such as the deductible, whether your doctors are in the network and what you will pay for prescriptions.
"If you base the decision only on the price to buy the plan, you might in the long term end up spending more out of pocket if it's not the right plan for you," Rosenberg said.
Wellness plans on rise: Among other trends is an employer-sponsored wellness program.
Employers are placing greater emphasis on health and wellness programs that encourage employees to take a more active role in managing their health.
Also, a small but growing number of employers are offering health insurance to employees through their own private health exchanges.
The exchanges are similar to the public marketplaces created by the federal Affordable Care Act.
"Private health exchanges create a new competitive market for health insurance that provide employees with more health plan options at different coverage levels and price points," Aon Hewitt said.
Whatever insurance options you're offered, look at your family's health needs and get the coverage that best meets them.
Treat this as the big purchasing decision that it is. There are few things more important than your health.
Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.