How to Find Health Plan “Perks” During Open Enrollment Season
By Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer, UnitedHealthcare ~
When it comes to health benefits, many people may often think about the financial protection provided in the event of a serious medical issue, illness, or accident. While that is a valuable aspect of having major medical coverage, some health plans may also offer a slew of other resources that can contribute to well-being and financial fitness.
That’s why it is important for people to research their health plan options during this fall’s open enrollment season, the time when individuals can select or switch their health benefits for 2022. While 82% of people responding to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey said they are prepared for open enrollment, more than one-quarter (28%) spend less than one hour researching their health benefit options.
Depending on the plans available, people may be able to access “health plan perks” that are potentially overlooked during the enrollment process. Here are several benefits, programs or discounts to look for when considering health plans for next year:
Digital fitness apps. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some people to avoid public gyms due to potential exposure risks to the coronavirus, contributing to a surge in the popularity of at-home fitness routines. In fact, 30% of Americans surveyed said they had used a digital fitness app as part of their fitness regimen since COVID-19 emerged. To help more people access live and on-demand workouts virtually, some health plans now include subsidized subscriptions to digital fitness apps, in some cases giving year-long access at no additional cost.
Wearable devices. Many U.S. employers offer well-being programs, some of which include financial incentives for healthy activities such as completing walking goals, going to the gym, or meeting certain health benchmarks (e.g., cholesterol levels, body mass index or non-nicotine use). To help encourage participation, some health plans provide members with a wearable device – such as a smartwatch or an activity tracker – at no additional cost. By using the device and meeting specific daily activity goals, such as walking, biking, swimming or strength training, people may earn over $1,000 per year in financial incentives to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Physical therapy and chiropractic care. About 80% of people experience low back issues at least once, with pain ranging from a minor nuisance to a major disability. As the first course of treatment, the American College of Physicians recommends exercise-based therapies followed by non-surgical options such as physical therapy and chiropractic care. With that in mind, some health plans waive usual deductibles or copays for some of these non-surgical options for new-onset low back pain, to help improve access to this type of care while potentially avoiding often unnecessary (and expensive) treatments such as imaging or surgery.
Prescription sunglasses and blue-light-blocking screen protectors. For people who enroll in a vision plan, some 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. Likewise, some vision plans may offer discounts on blue-light-blocking screen protectors for smartphones, tablets or laptops, helping reduce the risk of symptoms such as headaches associated with digital eye strain.
Virtual dental care and at-home orthodontics. People who enroll in a dental plan may gain access to virtual dental care resources, potentially providing 24/7 access to a dental professional for advice or guidance to in-person care. Meanwhile, some dental plans with orthodontic coverage now provide discounts on direct-to-consumer clear aligners, helping people improve their smiles – and potentially save time on in-person appointments – in most cases 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 for most individual state exchanges, open enrollment is from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15.
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. To determine access to these programs, people can check with their company’s HR department or directly with their health plan.