Thursday, November 5, 2015

‘Tis the season for choosing a health insurance plan

As the year begins to wind down, most of us know that we will be increasingly busy during the next couple of months. It can be tough to find a few spare minutes as we scramble to meet year-end deadlines at work, figure out the perfect gifts for our loved ones and fill our calendars with holiday activities.

During the hustle and bustle, many people overlook a very important task: Signing up for their health care plan for 2016. Open enrollment season is typically the only time of year when people can switch health insurers or make changes to their plan. It’s critical for families to take the time to make sure they fully understand their health plan options and anticipate their health care needs for the coming year. Choosing the right plan can help you enhance your health and possibly save money in the year ahead.

The following tips can help you select a plan that makes financial sense while providing the benefits you and your family need:

Be aware there are three distinct open enrollment periods
If you are choosing a plan for yourself and helping family members with their health insurance decisions, the timing could vary.
·         Employer-Sponsored Coverage – Most large employers schedule a two- to three-week period when their employees can select health benefits for the following year. This period is often in the fall, but the exact dates depend on the employer.

·         Medicare Open Enrollment Period – For most Medicare beneficiaries, the Open Enrollment Period began on Oct. 15 and continues through Dec. 7.  This is the only time period when Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare coverage for next year.   

·         Pennsylvania Insurance Marketplace – The Pennsylvania Insurance Marketplace may be a good option for people under 65 who don’t have health insurance.  Open enrollment starts Nov. 1, 2015, and ends Jan. 31, 2016. To learn more, visit

Set aside enough time
Set aside enough time to review your options, and attend any information sessions at work or in your community. You may find ways to save money on your health care costs – whether it’s by selecting a plan with a lower monthly cost and/or deductible level, or a plan that will cover more of the expected costs for a major health event you anticipate, such as having a baby or surgery, or evaluating prescription drug coverage. If you plan to purchase health insurance coverage on the PA Insurance Marketplace be sure to check out UnitedHealthcare’s “Marketplace Made Clear” video series at

Select care providers who participate in the insurer’s network
Even if you don’t plan to make any changes to your health insurance, it’s still a good idea to ensure any doctor you plan to visit during the coming year participates in your plan’s care provider network.

Many health plans offer a broad choice of local in-network health care professionals, from primary care physicians and pediatricians to specialists, and these in-network care providers agree in advance to what they’ll charge for specific procedures. You should also call before your procedure to verify the care providers are in-network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside the network, learn up front how your costs will differ from those of an in-network care provider – sometimes the difference can be substantial.

Don’t forget about other benefits
Specialty benefits such as dental, vision, accident or even critical illness plans are often cost-effective options and cover annual teeth cleanings and eye exams or provide financial benefits for unexpected situations. Many vision plans also offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses.
No matter how busy you are in the next couple of months, make sure you set aside enough time to carefully review your health plan options. For more information on open enrollment, check out my recent article in the Courier Post.