All You Need To Know About Open Enrollment

Open enrollment is here again, and for many Americans this time period – and the entire Healthcare professionals and patienthealth insurance market – spells confusion.

Is Obamacare still in effect? Are premiums really increasing as much as predicted? Do I need to take action now if I’m happy with my insurance plan? What’s the difference between all the plans offered in the marketplace?

So many questions! No worries, though. We’ve got answers. Read on for the complete rundown on open enrollment, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and today’s health insurance options.

1.) The ACA – still in effect?

Before you go shopping for a cheaper or better insurance plan, bear in mind that the Affordable Healthcare Act is still up and running. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the current administration has overturned the program or will soon do so. While an alternative health care plan has been proposed, there has been no change in the current system thus far, and it is not likely that there will be within the next few months.

What does this mean for the average American?

The ACA has made it mandatory for every American to have sufficient health care coverage. The penalty for failing to comply with this law is the higher of $695 per adult or 2.5% of household income.

The ACA also oversees the government-run health insurance marketplace in which insurance plans can only be purchased during open enrollment. In most states, the open enrollment period for 2017 is about 6 weeks long, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The following states have extended their enrollment period: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.

2.) Rising premiums or cheaper rates?

If you ask the average Jane or John Doe if insurance costs are rising or falling, you’d probably get an earful about ever-climbing premium rates and health care costs. On the flip side, though, is the government, claiming their subsidized plan and the expansion of Medicaid has health care costs steadily declining.

In fact, both arguments are true. The silver plans on the ACA marketplace rose by an average of more than 30% this past year – and 2018 is looking a whole lot worse. Premiums are expected to rise by as much as 34-50% this coming year.

The current administration has claimed it will stop paying for many of the key payments to insurers it’s previously shouldered as part of the ACA. This factor, coupled with the overwhelming uncertainty surrounding the ACA, has led insurers to drastically increase their premiums.

The 80% of customers who receive subsidized insurance through Obamacare will be shielded from these price hikes; it’s the other 20% who will bear the brunt of the unstable marketplace.

The premium increase rates will vary by state and by the individual, but it is quite possible for an Obamacare customer who was paying $593 a month in premiums in 2017 to be saddled with a monthly premium of $1,001 in 2018!

All this uncertainty has led to another significant development: Many providers have left the marketplace plans. This means your doctor may no longer be part of your insurance plan. Be sure to find out about any possible changes before open enrollment is up, even if you aren’t looking to change your plan.

3.) Where to apply

If you do not receive insurance coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or your workplace, you may want to consider changing your insurance plan this year. To find out what your options are, visit healthcare.gov. Most states offer insurance coverage through this site, while others will redirect you to a private state-run site where you can purchase a marketplace plan.

4.) Available marketplace plans

Here’s a quick synopsis of each category of plans available in the ACA marketplace:

  • Bronze: lowest monthly premiums, highest out-of-pocket costs and very high deductibles.
  • Silver: the most popular plans available, silver offers moderate premiums and out-of-pocket costs, with lower deductibles than bronze plans.
  • Gold: high monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs and deductibles.
  • Platinum: the most expensive plans in the marketplace, platinum plans have the highest monthly premiums but the lowest out-of-pocket costs and very low deductibles.

There is also a catastrophic plan available for individuals under age 30 and people who have received an exemption from the marketplace due to extenuating circumstances. These plans include free preventive care, low monthly premiums and very high deductibles.

5.) Choosing your plan

When shopping for a marketplace plan, it’s important not to base your decision on price alone. Many of the cheaper plans come with a heavy price. Your primary care provider or your child’s pediatrician may not be covered under some of the less expensive plans. You may need to pay out-of-pocket for many or all prescription drugs. Lastly, a higher deductible can mean that you’ll end up paying for all of your health care needs in 2018 without “cashing in” on your premiums before the year is over.

Be sure to shop around for a plan and do lots of research before making your decision.

Be an educated consumer this open enrollment season so that you make the best decision possible. Your health is too important for anything less!

Your Turn: The nationwide health insurance challenge has been hotly contested for years. If you had the power and means, how would you change the current system? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/the-affordable-care-act-in-2017-myths-and-facts/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2017/10/31/time-to-shop-for-obamacare-what-you-need-to-know-this-enrollment-season.html 

https://www.aarp.org/health/health-insurance/info-2017/open-enrollment-aca-fd.html 
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/time/money/4826591/aca-premiums-cost-2018

Why & How to Plan Ahead for Health Care Expenses

Health care is something that most Americans overlook when budgeting. Medical debt child with nursecan get out of control if you don’t have health insurance or you don’t plan ahead for unexpected health care expenses.

But how do you plan ahead for health care expenses?

Here are a few tips that can help you start the planning process:

  1. Research health insurance plans and medical costs. To plan ahead for your health care expenses, you will need to understand what type of health insurance plan you have and the medical costs that you may incur in the upcoming year.
    • Determine how much to save based on your deductible, co-payments/co-insurance and/or out-of-pocket maximums. You can contact your health insurance provider to find out the amount of your deductible.
    • Estimate how much to save based on any medical bills you received in the previous year.
    • Calculate how much to save based on any prescriptions you had to pay for in the previous year.
    • Attend workshops and seminars presented by your employer or health insurance organization to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of your health insurance plan (and spend the least amount of money out of your own pocket).

Everyone’s situation will be different. Use what you think will be best for you to determine how to save money on your health care costs.

  1. Start the planning and budgeting process. A best practice is to use a budgeting tool to outline all of your monthly expenses, including any estimated health care costs. A visual map of your financial plan will give you something to follow to ensure you are meeting your savings targets every month.
  2. Consider Opening a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These enable you to save for health care expenses in advance (on a pre-tax basis). Not only are the funds untaxed, they can also be used to cover the cost of co-payments, co-insurance, out-of-pocket maximums, and prescriptions.

The Bottom Line: You’ll Save Money in the Long Run

Ultimately, planning ahead for health care expenses is like planning ahead for retirement. With retirement, you plan ahead to cover all of your bills in the future. The same concept applies for health care expenses. The money you save will enable you to cover the costs of any medical expenses you incur in the future.

Courtesy of Accel Members Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union’s partner to provide its members free unlimited financial counseling.

13 Life Hacks to Reduce or Eliminate Medical Debt

Almost every American faces medical debt at some point in their life. So you’re not aloneiStock_000009697836_Large if you’re scared of the prospect of medical debt damaging your personal credit and causing you to go into a financial crisis when you least expect it.

Fear not! There are ways to avoid having your financial dreams derailed by a medical emergency, an unexpected procedure, or unnecessary medical expenses. Here are some life hacks we came up with that can help you reduce or eliminate medical debt:

  1. Stick to Doctors Within Your Network – If your plan requires that you visit doctors within your network, stick to those doctors so you don’t have to pay out-of-network fees.
  2. Pay Your Medical Bills In Full –Chances are you will receive a discount. Many hospitals offer a 10% discount when you agree to pay your bill in full.
  3. Don’t Switch Plans to Visit a Doctor Out-of-Network Once – You can save money if you only have to visit an out-of-network doctor once a year. Changing your plan for the sake of one service can result in higher health insurance plan premiums over the long term.
  4. Opt For “Minimum Essential Coverage” Instead of Expensive Health Insurance Plans – If you’re cash strapped and healthy, a minimum essential coverage may be your best option. These plan usually only cover preventative care and other basic medical services—not hospitalizations and outpatient surgery.
  5. Utilize Charity Care Programs – Your hospital may offer discounted services to low-income people. It’s a little known secret that you can apply for charity care programs that may reduce or eliminate your entire bill if you qualify. To get started, just call the hospital that has billed you and ask them if you can apply for their “charity care program”.
  6. Find Out What’s Covered by Your Health Insurance Provider – Before you schedule a medical procedure, find out what’s covered and at what rate. If you determine the cost will be high, talk to the referring doctor about lower cost alternatives.
  7. Request a Payment Plan – If you owe a medical bill that you are not able to pay in full, you can usually get on a payment plan with lower minimum payments. As long as you continue to pay the bill monthly, the debt should not show up on your credit report. All you have to do is call to make arrangements before the debt becomes delinquent.
  8. Use Urgent Care Centers – Find out if urgent care centers are included in your health insurance plan network. They often charge a flat fee for labs, therefore you won’t have unexpected bills later on. They can also help with a variety of problems that don’t require hospitalization, which will also save you money in the long run.
  9. Ask for Prescription Samples or Coupons – Some prescriptions are free at pharmacies such as Walmart and Meijer. When filling your prescription, ask the pharmacist if any samples or coupons are available.
  10. Combine Doctor Visits to Save Money – When visiting your doctor, make sure they address multiple issues at once so you don’t have to go back for repeat visits.
  11. Get Refills on Prescriptions from a Family Doctor Instead of a Specialist – For example, if you go to a dermatologist to get a prescription for acne, instead of going back to the dermatologist for a refill on the prescription, it may be cheaper to go to your family doctor or a general practitioner to get a refill.
  12. Research the Costs of Certain Procedures/Appointments – Research the costs of procedures and appointments ahead of time so you can choose the lowest cost provider.
  13. Apply for a Grant from the Healthwell Foundation – You can apply to receive financial assistance with covering your medical bills. If approved, they may cover $6,000 per year in medical insurance premiums (for certain diseases). Visit https://www.healthwellfoundation.org/ for more information.

Courtesy of Accel Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union‘s financial counseling partner.

Common Mistakes During Open Enrollment


Fall is a time of many changes. The temperatures cool, the leaves change color, and the world starts getting ready for winter. With all that change, there’s one thing people often leave the same: their workplace benefits packages.

November is the beginning of the open enrollment period for many workplace benefit plans. It’s also the open enrollment period for insurance policies on the Obamacare marketplace. This makes it an excellent time to review your insurance information and other benefits.  Destinations Credit Union has a partnership with TruStage Insurance which offers members good pricing on plans through the marketplace.  Watch our website for details.

These perks may have been a big part of what drew you to your job in the first place, so it makes sense to get as much out of them as possible. You may be paying too much (or too little!) for health insurance, and now’s your chance to fix it. Be sure to watch out for these three common pitfalls when enrolling in workplace benefits.

1.) The passive opt-in

When starting a new job, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the barrage of paperwork and decisions. Health insurance decisions are just one of the dozen new responsibilities, so they get a fraction of the attention they deserve. For many people, though, those are the health insurance choices they stay with for much of their careers.

There are two key reasons why sticking with the default option may be a poor choice. First, your life situation has likely changed. As you get older, your need for more comprehensive health coverage increases. You may also need more extensive dependent coverage or you may have more disposable income to contribute to an HSA or FSA.

Second, your employer’s offerings may have changed. Most companies renegotiate their insurance rates annually, and may have negotiated for greater flexibility, lower premiums or better coverage. These are only options you’ll discover if you sit down with your HR representative and figure out your coverage for the next benefits year.

2.) Forgetting spousal benefits

Doubling preventative solutions is rarely a bad thing. Having a belt and suspenders seems like the most cautious way to keep your pants up. However, when it comes to health insurance, being covered by both your and your spouse’s plans can be a serious financial hazard.

First, you may be paying more than necessary. Adding a spouse to a workplace policy is usually cheaper than paying for two separate policies. Take a look at both policies and see which one provides the right combination of better prices and better coverage.

More dangerously, double insurance can frequently leave you in the middle of a fight between insurance companies. Both will insist that the other should pay first, and you could wind up buried under a mountain of paperwork for coordination of benefits. This trouble can compound when there are children covered under multiple policies. While you’ll never be on the hook for the whole charge, you may have to work twice as hard to get covered.

If you and your spouse are on different enrollment periods, most companies will provide a preview of the planned benefits offerings outside open enrollment. This allows you and your partner to review and consider the available options. Picking one insurance plan for both of you can really cut down your costs.

3.) Ignoring HSA/FSA options

Enrolling in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can sting at first. Seeing dollars go out of your paycheck before you spend them hurts. Don’t let that deter you, though.

HSAs and FSAs are similar in function, but there are important differences. Both allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars that you can use for health care-related expenses. The difference is that HSAs rollover their entire remaining balance to the next year, while FSAs only rollover up to a certain limit established by your plan. There are other differences, like whether or not the account follows you after you leave the company, but the principle difference is the rollover effect.

Enrolling in one of these accounts requires estimating your healthcare costs for the next year. For most people, the safest assumption is that you’ll spend the same amount next year as you did last year. However, if you’ve got a planned medical expense, such as a pregnancy, surgery or other major issue that will arise next year, you can get an estimate to guide your contributions.

Funding an HSA or an FSA is basically free money off your taxes. One way or another, you’ll have to pay for health care costs. By designating money for it early, you can avoid paying taxes on money you’ll spend for health care.

No matter how long you’ve held your current position, it’s worth revisiting your benefits options once a year. Don’t just throw away the paperwork about your insurance, and don’t skip the informational policy meetings. Be an active participant in your benefits decisions. After all, you’ve earned them.

YOUR TURN: Insurance questions are difficult. What matters most to you when picking an insurance policy? Help your fellow benefit strugglers in the comments with your best advice!

SOURCES: