Like almost everything else in 2020, people who get their health benefits through work will find it difficult to choose health benefits during the fall open enrollment period.

In the midst of a pandemic-triggered recession, many working Americans are looking for ways to save money on their health care costs. Choosing the right coverage will take time, however, as employees face some obstacles in making the right choice. Like their employers.

This is the first open enrollment period where the dual impact of COVID-19 and recession is undoubtedly influencing decision-making for everyone involved.

What kind of obstacles? There is a possibility that employees will lose their jobs. As of September 2020, 12.6 million people were unemployed in the United States. The unemployment rate is 7.9% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As COVID-related unemployment continues to rise, there is a possibility of unemployment.

The question they face is, in order to afford health care, how do they compromise that don’t cause too much financial pain.

Their obstacle is nothing new to employers: health care costs are rising. According to Mercer’s national survey of employer-sponsored health plans for 2020, employers expect to pay an average of 4.4% more for health benefits in 2021 than in 2020.

This increase affects a significant number of employees. According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), 180 million Americans are covered by an employer-based health insurance plan. That, said the Kaiser Family Foundation, makes up 49% of the country’s total population.

Much of this population is now working from home trying to remotely select health benefits. This creates an atmosphere that is ripe for confusion, especially when employees are already considering complex health care options.

“Remote working has created a segregation between employers and employees that has resulted in open registration,” said Brian O’Connell, an analyst at InsuranceQuotes.com.

That split can have long-term implications, said Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus.com, as people postpone routine health care.

“There is compensation for the late treatment – there have been operations that have been delayed or canceled, and people don’t go to the doctor as often for their checkups.” These decisions could have an impact on healthcare costs in 2021, Ms. Guinn said.

Find workable options

However, the choices now made for a smart health plan could create a much-needed financial cushion to offset future costs. Ms. Guinn said high deductible health insurance (HDHP) could be a viable option. “One of the best things about offering an HDHP is the ability to have a Health Savings Account (HSA).”

A health savings account allows participants to raise funds for health care costs related to a high deductible plan. HSAs, Ms. Guinn said, offer another benefit: they can serve as a reserve for future medical expenses, especially for those employees who are considering retirement.

“Because it’s tax-free, you reduce your taxable income,” she said. “But these funds roll year after year. Here’s how you can build a medical pension bank. “

To save more on costs, employees should consider another option that’s already included in almost all employer-sponsored plans: telehealth.

Jeanette Thornton, senior vice president of product, employer and trade policies at AHIP, or America’s Health Insurance Plans, said many people turned to telehealth services during the pandemic.

“Most plans today offer telemedicine benefits,” she said in AHIP’s recent webinar, “Open Enrollment 2021: New Trends in the Individual Market.” “For people who, for very good reasons, have not been able to visit their provider in person, access to medical care is crucial.”

Telehealth is also an option for consumers looking to keep more of their deductible dollars. Telemedicine visits are often cheaper: According to an article in Kaiser Health News, the average cost of a telemedicine visit is $ 79, compared to $ 146 for a traditional office visit.

In general, employees shouldn’t assume the status quo is the best option, said Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath, a health advisory service for employers and employees. “New options and changes in cost sharing may become available for enrolled attendees, so it is important to carefully review enrollment records and seek help from your employer,” she said.

Talking to the employer can help an employee understand the information available, analyst O’Connell said. “Employees should ask employers about their basic insurance options. As soon as the employee checks that[m] … additional functions of health insurance can be discussed. “

Plans and options could have changed since the last open enrollment period, Ms. Buckey said. “We’re seeing more and more customers offering low-cost, volunteer plans.” These include: hospital compensation plans, which cover all hospital expenses that are not covered by the employee’s existing insurance; Health insurance; Accident insurance and; Co-called buy-up disability insurance paid jointly by employer and employee. These covers can provide additional financial protection for employees who are sick or injured.

She added, “Many of these plans offer a flat-rate benefit that can be used for any purpose – covering healthcare expenses or paying rent, tuition, or grocery bills.”

Even performance options that employees sometimes overlook are reconsidered for good reason. Many more employees are now interested in life and disability insurance, O’Connell said. Likewise, more and more workers are addressing mental health and wellness programs in their employer-sponsored programs, which are mandates of the Affordable Care Act. As the mental impact of COVID-19 puts a strain on employees and their families, such services become essential, O’Connell said. “Increasingly, many workers are willing to pay for health insurance that includes a wellness component for mental health.”

Mental health services are available in a telemedical setting, Ms. Guinn said.

Remote open enrollment success

Employees should review their retirement plans as COVID-19 continues to affect businesses, Ms. Guinn said. “I always encourage people, even if you aren’t forced to sign up and re-sign up for your services every year. Taking advantage of open registration is your time to do a financial review. I encourage people to ask themselves as they consider different medical plan options: How much coverage do I need? “

Another question, she added, is how much do you pay for doctor visits. “Would I rather pay more of my paycheck in a premium and know that I will pay less at the doctor? Or do I want to save on premiums and not pay as much of my paycheck? “

Mrs. Buckey agreed. “The right plan for you depends in large part on how often you and your insured family members need medical care, how many prescriptions your family fills out each month, and how well you can meet unexpected health expenses.”

By examining all available costs and plan options, employees can make better decisions to save money. Get advice from a benefits administrator or HR manager and use tools to assist with registration.

“If seeing your current doctor (s) is important to you, check to see that your providers are on the plan option you are considering – and that they are still in business,” she said. “Due to the pandemic earlier in the year, many providers decided to sell their practices or take early retirement, and many smaller hospitals were added to larger health systems. Don’t wait to find out that you need a new provider. ”

Lori Widmer writes about insurance and risk management for trade and business magazines.

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