Akin to a food nutritional label, the SBC is intended to clearly spell out what's included in your plan and what you'll pay for deductibles, prescriptions, office visits, etc. It also has to show basic costs for at least two major medical events: having a baby and managing Type 2 diabetes.
If you don't receive an SBC, ask your employer. Some carriers make them available online or by paper copy upon request.
WORRIED ABOUT LAYOFFS? If you think your company might be cutting jobs next year, consider going with the least costly plan, says eHealthInsurance. That'll make it easier if you have to pay your entire premium under COBRA, the federal law that lets laid-off workers temporarily keep their health care coverage.
USE THE TOOLS: Most carriers, as well as state and federal websites, offer online tools for comparing health plans and medical procedures.
UnitedHealthcare, for instance, has an online cost estimator for about 300 medical procedures. "If I know I need arthroscopic knee surgery, I can do a search and compare and contrast different providers in my area for a sense of how different costs can be. Many times there is quite a variation in price for the same procedure," said Steve Scheneman, a regional vice president for UnitedHealthcare.
Shopping around can lead to a more informed decision, as well as save on out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles.
CHANGES TO FSAS: A flexible spending account lets you set aside pretax dollars with your employer that can be used for medical expenses during the year, anything from bandages to contact lenses to dental care. For 2013, the maximum contribution drops to $2,500, down by half from the current $5,000 limit.
As always, the catch is that it's a use-it-or-lose-it account. If your kids are getting braces or you're planning laser eye surgery next year, do a rough calculation of the costs and set aside that amount.
In the Aflac survey, only 16 percent of consumers said they chose the right FSA amount.
Also, if you currently have an FSA, don't forget to submit reimbursement claims or use your FSA debit card to spend down the full amount you set aside for 2012. If not, your untaxed dollars stay with your employer. (Note: Some employers allow a grace period, until March 2013, to use up any remaining FSA funds.)
CONSIDER AN HAS: These come in two parts: a health savings account paired with a high-deductible health plan. Similar to FSAs, HSA savings can be used to pay for almost any medical expense. But unlike FSAs, your HSA funds are yours to keep and roll over from year to year.
For 2013, HSA contribution limits are $3,250 for individual coverage or $6,450 for family coverage. All HSA contributions, earnings and withdrawals for health care expenses are federal tax-free.
Oliver, who has Kaiser health insurance, said he and his wife have saved an average $1,600 a year since 2007 by switching to a high-deductible plan with an HSA account.
The catch is that the cheaper premiums mean you pay a higher deductible, starting at $1,250 for individuals, plus out-of-pocket costs, before insurance kicks in.
Consider carefully, as savings can vary widely depending on family size, ages and medical needs.
BE A SMART CONSUMER: Take advantage of "wellness" savings offered by your company's plan. Many insurers offer cash rebates, gift cards or discounts for healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, lowering cholesterol or quitting smoking.
2013 HEALTH CARE CHANGES
This is the last year before final, major overhauls under the Affordable Care Act take effect in January 2014.
-FSA limits: The maximum amount that can be set aside in a flexible spending account is lowered to $2,500 for next year. Currently, it's a maximum of $5,000.
-Benefit summaries: Health care providers must provide an easy-to-read Summary of Benefits and Coverages, including costs for two basic life events: having a baby and managing Type 2 diabetes.
ON THE WEB:
-Healthcare.gov: Covers all aspects of health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.
-EHealthInsurance.com: A health insurance comparison site for consumers. Offers a free book, "Individual Health Insurance for Dummies."
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