1. Your Options Are Important
There are many different types of health benefit plans. Find out which one your employer offers, then check out the plan, or plans, offered. Your employer's human resource office, the health plan administrator, or your union can provide information to help you match your needs and preferences with the available plans. The more information you have, the better your health care decisions will be.
2. Review the Benefits Available
Do the plans offered cover preventive care, well-baby care, vision or dental care? Are there deductibles? Answers to these questions can help determine the out-of-pocket expenses you may face. Matching your needs and those of your family members will result in the best possible benefits. Cheapest may not always be best. Your goal is high quality health benefits.
3. Look for Quality
The quality of health care services varies, but quality can be measured. You should consider the quality of health care in deciding among the health care plans or options available to you. Not all health plans, doctors, hospitals and other providers give the highest quality care. Fortunately, there is quality information you can use right now to help you compare your health care choices. Find out how you can measure quality. Consult Choosing and Using a Health Plan from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
4. Your Plan's Summary Plan Description (SPD) Provides a Wealth of Information
Your health plan administrator should provide a copy. It outlines your benefits and your legal rights under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the federal law that protects your health benefits. It should contain information about the coverage of dependents, what services will require a co-pay, and the circumstances under which your employer can change or terminate a health benefits plan. Save the SPD and all other health plan brochures and documents, along with memos or correspondence from your employer relating to health benefits.
5. Assess Your Benefit Coverage as Your Family Status Changes
Marriage, divorce, child birth or adoption, or the death of a spouse are life events that may signal a need to change your health benefits. You, your spouse and dependent children may be eligible for a special enrollment period under provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Even without life-changing events, the information provided by your employer should tell you how you can change benefits or switch plans, if more than one plan is offered. A special note: If your spouse's employer also offers a health benefits package, consider coordinating both plans for maximum coverage.
6. Changing Jobs and Other Life Events Can Affect Your Health Benefits
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act-better known as COBRA-you, your covered spouse and dependent children, may be eligible to purchase extended health coverage under your employer's plan if you lose your job, change employers, get divorced, or upon occurrence of certain other events. Coverage can range from 18 to 36 months depending on your situation. COBRA applies to most employers with 20 or more workers and requires your plan to notify you of your rights. Most plans require eligible individuals to make their COBRA election within 60 days of the plan's notice. Be sure to follow up with your plan sponsor if you don't receive notice and make sure you respond within the allotted time. Get the facts by getting a copy of Health Benefits Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.