When it comes to selecting healthcare, Americans need to do their homework and be informed consumers.
The annual Open Season, running now through December 10, is an important time for more than eight million federal employees covered in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB). This is the time to anticipate health care needs and review health care options for next year, and it can be filled with more questions than answers.
It’s easy to understand why people might be confused about their health care coverage. The FEHB Program alone has more than 265 health plans to consider. Finding the right health care plan can feel like finding a needle in a haystack.
Considering that health care represents the fourth largest expense for Americans, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s worth investing the time to make the right choice for you and your family – much like you would reach out to a retirement or financial expert for information.
Like any purchase, consumers need to understand the total cost – the cost to buy and the cost to use your health insurance. Fortunately, rates for the 2019 plans remained steady – at only a 1.3 percent increase, the lowest increase since the 0.6 percent rate in 1996, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
The fact is, not all plans are created equal, so Americans need to do their homework and be informed consumers. Insurers adjust their plans from year-to-year, and may announce new options and coverage as they respond to a changing marketplace. For example, the premium, deductible and co-pay amounts can change as can the network of hospitals and physicians.
Consumers are accustomed to having their information at their fingertips and health care should be no different. At Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the Federal Employee Program (FEP) is working to make a real difference for federal workers by using technology to increase efficiency and lower costs.
Telehealth has emerged as a convenient option for busy professionals juggling the demands of work and home. Carving out time in the day to visit the doctor’s office has a ripple effect on an already packed calendar. Whether at the office or in your living room, you can consult a physician to treat minor injuries and illnesses through a safe and secure app on your smartphone. A telehealth consultation can cost as little as $10. What’s more, the convenience removes barriers to regular engagement with a physician. When identified and addressed earlier, serious health conditions are less expensive to treat.
Cost and transparency tools are also empowering Americans to understand how they spend health care dollars. By enabling consumers to shop for certain procedures that may vary in cost from one zip-code to the next, the tools prevent sticker shock for what might seem like a routine procedure. Hospitals and physicians charge different amounts, and your insurer may have negotiated a better rate at another facility nearby.
Wearables and mobile apps are another way insurers are helping consumers become more informed and actively engaged in their health care. These user-friendly technologies and tools allow consumers to find health care providers, adhere to prescription plans, keep appointments and track annual expenses. They provide an effective way to monitor and improve quality of care, but also help to contain costs.
Health is one of our most valuable assets. And health care is one of our main expenses. This year, during Open Enrollment Season, take the time to understand all that’s offered to federal employees. And be sure to take full advantage of all the new digital tools available to make your health care experience more informed, easier to use and cost less.
William A. Breskin is senior vice president, Government Programs, for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies.
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