Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How to approach the open enrollment period

More than 8 million New Jersey residents with health insurance coverage will soon select or switch their health benefits plan during open enrollment. To prepare, residents should keep several important factors in mind, in order to make the most of their health benefits.

Know your open enrollment dates
Many people do not realize that open enrollment dates vary from person to person, depending on your plan. While most open enrollment periods occur between September and December each year, be sure to check your deadline.

Employers who provide health insurance specify a two-week period between September and December when employees can select their benefits. Those enrolled in Medicare must choose their benefits between October 15 and December 7, while Americans who use the health insurance marketplace have an open enrollment period of November 1–December 15.

Review your options
Every person or family has unique health and budget needs. That’s why it’s important to set some time aside to review your options. At the very least, everyone planning to participate in open enrollment should check to see if any of their benefits will change next year.

Health care consumers should also pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. It’s important to fully understand any out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance. If you’re not completely sure of these terms, don’t feel so bad. According to our recent survey, only 9 percent of survey respondents could successfully define these basic health insurance terms. Here’s a 45-second video that briefly explains these concepts.

Check your network
Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to double check if your doctor is still in-network so you don’t experience any surprises after enrollment. If you plan to see a practicing physician outside of a network, make sure you understand how costs may differ, as they will likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues.  Telehealth – defined as online, or virtual, visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone – is often available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, and select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

Additional benefits
Many people are surprised to learn that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. Many Medicare Advantage plans do, however – often at a $0 monthly premium, beyond the premium for Original Medicare.

Gym memberships and health coaching programs are also great additional benefits covered by some health plans. Many health coaching programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices to improve their health.

If you need help navigating the open enrollment process, or you’re looking for ways to save on costs, visit You’ll find articles and videos that will help you make an informed decision about your health care benefits in 2018.

Friday, September 29, 2017

New health benefits store in Bergen County

Today we celebrated the opening of our second health benefits store in New Jersey. Located at 7 Broad Ave. in Palisades Park, the center offers customer service, health education and support services to UnitedHealthcare members with Medicare and employer-sponsored coverage.

With a focus on serving the Asian-American community, UnitedHealthcare staff will offer customized in-language support in Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and South Asian dialects to help people not as proficient in English navigate the health care system.

Whether patients have questions about their benefits or want to participate in health and wellness seminars, the center’s doors and phone lines will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. In addition, translation services are available for all documents – not just those related to health insurance plans.

At UnitedHealthcare, we strive to offer personalized, tailored health care to the communities we serve. These centers become more important as we continue to ask people to make more complex decisions about their health care benefits and how they utilize their coverage.

We’re excited to serve Bergen County and remain committed to helping New Jerseyans live healthier lives.

UnitedHealthcare executives and community leaders cut the ribbon today (September 29, 2017) at the grand opening of the Bergen Asian Resource Center, which is the company's 10th storefront dedicated to serving Asian-American communities in the United States and the second store in New Jersey. (Credit: Clutch Shot Pro)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Using a cost transparency tool to avoid surprise medical bills

We’re joining the mission to make health care quality and cost information more accessible to New Jersey residents.
This is an important effort that has the potential to improve health outcomes and make care more affordable – laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis. 
One solution could involve more widespread use of health quality and cost resources. That’s why UnitedHealthcare has launched a new public website,, which enables anyone to access market average prices for nearly 800 common medical services.
By using this tool, we learned there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide. For example, in Newark, a knee MRI can cost from $441 to $1,963 while the same procedure in Trenton can range from $445 to $3,432.
For this reason, providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.
The number of online and mobile resources that enable people to access health care quality and cost information is growing and so is the number of people who are using these tools. Nearly one third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care as they would for other consumer products and services, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey 
These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards. However, keep in mind that a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.
For those who may not have access to a computer, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options.
Whichever way people choose to research their options, people can save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users. 
As you can see, transparency resources are becoming important tools for consumers to access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills. I encourage you to utilize these free resources, which will help you make better health care decisions and prepare for the cost of medical treatments.