Take Advantage of Health Benefits Before the Year Ends
by Lisa Zamosky
As the year comes to a close, so does the chance to use health insurance benefits that run on a calendar year cycle. In order to get the most for your money, it’s important to evaluate where you are with items like your annual deductibles, preventative services, and health savings accounts before the year is over to make sure that you’ve used all the services and benefits to which you are entitled.
In order to take full advantage of your health plan and save money, consider closely reviewing three main health benefits before 2009 comes to a close.
#1 Free Annual Screenings
Most health plans offer a range of free services that are well worth taking advantage of, yet millions of Americans each year let these freebies pass them by.
Among the free services offered on an annual basis by insurers are tests and screenings such as physicals, pap smears, mammograms, eye and dental exams, as well as prostate screenings. These services are often fully covered or require only a small co-payment. If you haven’t yet taken advantage of these benefits and aren’t certain about what your policy offers, pull out your benefits book, go online to your insurer’s Web site, or call the customer service number on the back of your benefit card to find out what’s available to you. Do it quickly so you can get in for an appointment before the year ends. It’s a good idea for your health and your wallet.
#2 Paid-Up Deductable
If you’ve met your annual deductable and are in need of a medical procedure, see about scheduling it within these final weeks of 2009. Once your deductable is paid up, you can expect in most instances that your insurer will pick up a bigger share — sometimes 100% — of the cost.
Surgeries, medical tests, dental work, along with mental health counseling and physical therapy, which usually have set limits on the number of sessions allowed in a year, are just a few examples of the services you want to use by year’s end so that you don’t lose the coverage.
If your plan has limits on the amount it will pay toward a particular service during a calendar year, talk with your health care provider about breaking up the work between the end of this year and the beginning of next. Dental benefits are a prime example. It’s common for dental programs to cover a set dollar amount for services in a given year, say $1,000 to $2,000. In order to get maximum coverage, ask your dentist if you can begin work now and start up again in January to finish.
#3 Flexible spending accounts
If you have a flexible savings account (FSAs) through your employer, make sure you have a plan in place to use the full amount you’ve deposited before year’s end. These tax-sheltered accounts are a great way to pay for office visits, prescription co-pays, over-the-counter medications, dental care, eyeglasses for you and your dependents, and a host of other health-related items and services. If the money isn’t spent within the year, however, you’ll lose it. Many employers offer a grace period until March 15, but don’t just assume yours is one of them.
If you need some ideas about how to spend the money in your FSA, you can go to the IRS’s web site for a list of eligible medical expenses: http://bit.ly/1C0j5X
Lisa Zamosky is a writer specializing in healthcare, and a former executive who worked for years in the health insurance industry. Visit her online at Writtenarts.com. E-mail Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lisa on Twitter: Twitter.com/lzam.