5 ways to help your employees make the most of their health plans

By Rebecca Madsen, Chief Consumer Officer, UnitedHealthcare

Many employees are already making plans to travel and celebrate with friends and family for the holidays. Yet there is one year-end ritual that is often overlooked: taking full advantage of annual health benefits. Doing so could help them improve their health and save money. 

Here are 5 tips you should suggest to your employees before the year ends

Get ahead of health issues

Employees with employer-sponsored plans have access to a slew of preventive services that can help detect diseases and encourage well-being. Members can take advantage of the various health screenings — such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression — and timely vaccines, such as the flu shot, that are available through their health plans before year-end. Many eligible preventive services are available at no additional cost, as long as they are delivered by care providers in the plan’s network. 

Delay non-emergency services

A growing number of employees are in health plans with higher deductibles; in fact, nearly 45% of Americans are enrolled in such plans, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Your employees in such plans should check if they have reached or exceeded their deductible. If not, it may make sense to delay non-emergency services, such as a joint replacement, until 2020. The cost for those services would then apply to their 2020 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, increasing the likelihood that their health plan would pay for more of their medical expenses for the remainder of the year.   

Schedule recommended health services

The opposite is true if they have already reached their deductible. In this case, they can check with their health care provider to schedule recommended medical services, as those will likely be covered (all or in part) by their health plan. They should tell their health care provider that they’ve reached their deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, and see if there’s any needed follow-up care that can be arranged before the end of the year. 

Understand spending accounts

Many of your employees have savings accounts (HSAs). If members contribute money to their HSA before year-end, they can help pay for qualified medical services in 2020 or even later while lowering their taxable income for 2019. On the other hand, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) require the money be spent before the year ends and unused balances are not rolled over into the next calendar year. If employees have funds left in their FSAs and need to order contact lenses, schedule a dental cleaning or refill prescriptions, now’s the time to do that.  

Prepare to use 2020 benefits

This year’s open-enrollment season is wrapping up. According to a UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 40% of employees said they devoted less than one hour to the process, meaning they may not have explored some of the options available to them. Before the year is out, employees should take time to review their health plans and check with HR to determine what well-being incentives or other resources might be available when 2020 starts. Nearly 75% of employers offer well-being programs, with an average incentive of $742 annually, according to one study by the National Business Group on Health. By finding out now what incentives are available to them, your employees can better prepare to start earning all or some of those rewards starting New Year’s Day.