How to Find Overlooked Health Benefits During Open Enrollment Season

By Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer, UnitedHealthcare

For millions of Americans, the fall marks open enrollment season, the time when people select or switch their health benefits for the following year. While many people are likely to look for a health plan that meets their needs and budget, consumers should also be aware of potentially overlooked benefits and programs that encourage well-being and help save money.

Here are several benefits and programs people should look for when considering their health plan for 2020.

Incentive-based well-being programs

A majority of U.S. employers offer well-being programs, many of which include financial incentives for healthy activities such as walking, going to the gym or meeting certain health benchmarks (e.g., cholesterol levels, body mass index or non-nicotine use). For instance, some plans offer access to wearable devices that enable them to earn more than $1,000 per year in financial incentives for meeting certain walking goals, including reaching 10,000 daily steps. Other “gym check-in” programs offer people the chance to earn gift cards or plan premium discounts by visiting a participating fitness facility a certain number of times each month. 

Access to telemedicine

Technology is changing how people navigate the health system and interact with health care professionals, providing more convenient and simpler access to treatments for nonemergency medical issues such as flu, pinkeye and bronchitis. To encourage the use of telemedicine, more health plans now include coverage for these services and offer mobile apps that connect people to doctors 24 hours a day via the camera on their mobile phone, tablet or computer. Telemedicine may provide more convenient access to quality, cost-effective care, in some cases for less than $50 per visit. 

Savings on hearing aids

Approximately 48 million Americans experience hearing loss, ranking it as the third most common chronic condition – yet hearing health care services and hearing aids are not typically covered by traditional Medicare. For support, some employer-sponsored and Medicare Advantage health plans are starting to offer coverage for hearing health testing and hearing aids. Depending on the plan, people may be able to purchase custom-programmed hearing aids at significant discounts compared to those without coverage, in some cases for as little as $100 out of pocket. For all consumers, new “home-delivery” models are making it more affordable to treat hearing loss, which some studies show contribute to depression, dementia and increased risk of falls.


Prescription sunglasses and at-home orthodontic care

People with some vision plans may be able to purchase a second pair of prescription eyewear (including sunglasses) for their normal or a reduced copay and coinsurance. Other vision plans may provide coverage for a pair of traditional safety glasses or blue-light filtering eyewear for extended computer use. Meanwhile, some dental plans with orthodontic coverage now provide network access to “teledentistry” and direct-to-consumer clear aligners, helping people improve their smiles – and potentially save time on in-person appointments – for less than $1,000 out of pocket.

Health care open enrollment usually occurs during a two-week period during the fall; for people enrolled in Medicare, enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7; and individual state exchanges from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. To determine access to these programs, people can check with their company’s HR department or directly with their health plan.      

By looking for and using these potentially overlooked benefits and resources, people can help maximize the value of their health plan, support well-being and save money.