Disclaimer: These are not my children.
My husband and I have (nearly) raised two teenagers, and a year ago, I might have chuckled at this finding from Aetna's Empowered Health Index Survey
Aetna determined that Americans rank choosing healthcare benefits as the second most difficult major life decision behind saving for retirement — more difficult than purchasing a car, making decisions about medical tests or treatments, parenting, and selecting homeowners, renters or auto insurance.
Really? Harder than parenting? Come on, America.
Respondents cited the following reasons: the available information is confusing and complicated (88 percent), there is conflicting information (84 percent) and it is difficult to know which plan is right for them (83 percent).
The same could be said about parenting.
But a year into our family's high-deductible health plan (HDHP), a change thrust upon us by my husband's employer, I might just have to agree. Gone were the $10 and $25 copays, even the $150 ER copay to discourage ER visits for non-urgent stuff. In their place, responsibility for the the total cost of healthcare services until we met our family deductible, a number I'd paid scant attention to until this point, at which time our coverage kicked in at 80 percent (for in-network providers, that is).
Don't even talk to me about the out-of-network arrangement.
To be fair, the company gave us plenty of fair warning, in the form of postcards and e-mails and the thick Open Enrollment packet, which I pored over quite attentively once I unearthed it from the pile of junk mail about a week before the enrollment deadline. As I flipped its glossy pages, little alarm bells of panic started to go off. What's this? No more Health Reimbursement Account (HRA)? Instead, a tax-advantaged Health Savings Account (HSA) from which we could pay our health expenses. It came with its own bank card. Handy. We just had to figure out how much to deposit in the HSA each month. Why, the same amount we did last year, we said.
And there were some incentives. Unlike the use-it-or-lose-it HRA funds, we could carry over the HSA money from one year to the next. And in exchange for taking an online Health Risk Assessment (HRA), the employer would make a deposit in our HSA. What the heck? Sign us up, we decided. (I think we went for our biometric screenings on Christmas Eve. The company took pity on the lot of us, extending the deadline for submitting biometric data until December 31.)
There was one more question: Did we smoke? Nope. Ka-ching. More HSA money. When we exhausted all ways to benefit from our extremely good health, we smugly sent off our enrollment.
It wasn't until we actually started using our benefits at the start of 2012 that we realized our fatal error: not taking more time to more accurately estimate our annual healthcare costs, plus a little extra for that midnight asthma attack, to help determine our HSA contribution. Because as everyone knows, it costs A LOT MORE THAN $150 TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. So, lots of lessons to remember when that big packet arrives again next month.
Thankfully, Aetna and other companies like it are providing lots of tools with which we can brace ourselves during Open Enrollment. Aetna offers a range of checklists, cost calculators and educational material on its Plan for Your Health Web site, which includes a new “Top 10” list of tips on how to choose your health benefits from Wendy Shanahan-Richards, M.D., co-author of Navigating Your Health Benefits for Dummies, a family physician and national medical director for Aetna.
The one that spoke to me? To plan for the future, learn from the past.
Plan for Your Health also features educational articles, cost calculators and checklists to help consumers make the best Open Enrollment decisions for them and their families.
Aetna's also offered to keep the health benefits conversation going on Twitter, through content, chats and other social engagement at the hashtag #emphealth. (A recent check of the hashtag: four Tweets, three of them Aetna's.)
Not a Tweeter? Maybe you'll like Cigna's three-part video series on YouTube on choosing your benefits. Because women make approximately 80 percent of healthcare decisions for families, Cigna's video series features two Cigna women executives, Chief Nursing Officer Susa Gaca and National Accounts Chief Operating Officer Ann Asbaty, sharing tips for consumers about how they can make good healthcare choices and best use their health plan benefits. You can read more about Cigna's Plan-Prepare-Prevent approach to benefits selection here.
Chances are your insurer or employer have taken the time to create similar tools. Plan to spend a little time online to see what's available.
As for us, two pieces of good news last week. Our HRA data is good for another year, so we can skip the lab this Christmas Eve. And my husband's cholesterol was just a skosh higher than normal, so they'd like him to check in with a telephonic health coach. If he calls by September 30, they'll make another HSA deposit.
As the female household member making 80 percent of our healthcare decisions, I just hope I remember to remind him.