Tips To Make Wise Health Benefit Choices In Open Enrollment

By Carolyn Bigda
Chicago Tribune.

If you’re young and healthy, picking a health insurance policy with the lowest monthly premium may seem like the way to go.

But a lower premium often means signing up for a high deductible, or health care services you must pay for before insurance kicks in. And deductibles are rising.

According to the latest annual study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2015, single-coverage workplace plans had an average deductible of $1,318, up 8 percent from the year before. A decade ago, the average was just $584. (Not all plans have a deductible, but 81 percent of single-coverage plans did in 2015.)

“People should make sure they can afford the costs beyond the premium,” said Gary Claxton, lead author of the Kaiser study and a vice president at the foundation.

With open enrollment occurring soon at many companies, here’s what to consider as you select your health care benefits for next year.

Go in-network. The cost of seeing a doctor typically is cheaper if you stick to your plan’s list of preferred providers. So even if you have a high deductible, you’ll save by staying in-network.

If you already have a doctor, double check that he or she will remain in-network next year. “Networks can change,” said Katy Votava, president and founder of, a health insurance consulting firm.

Keep in mind, too, that under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventive health care services, such as an annual wellness screening, vaccinations and FDA-approved contraceptives, are free.

“Look at the list of preventive visits that are covered and make sure to take advantage of those services,” Votava said.

Check your meds. See how the cost of any medicine you regularly take will be covered. A low-premium policy can end up being more expensive in the long run if the benefits for your prescription drugs are puny, Votava said. To check, go to the insurer’s website or call the insurer’s customer service center.

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