April 1, 2023

Bucks Blog: The Annual Health Benefits Gamble

It’s soon to be open enrollment season for many workplace health plans, when employees choose their coverage for the coming year. And while this may be an annual ritual, many workers, according to a recent survey, have trouble determining which plan is right for them.

Choosing annual benefits is often a gamble, even if, like my family, you’re fortunate enough to be in good health and have pretty good insurance options. None of us has a serious chronic condition, and we use few prescription medications. So last year, after weighing our choices, we opted to keep our monthly premiums low by going with what we considered to be a substantial ($5,000 plus) family deductible. Everyone was reasonably healthy, we reasoned. Our children are well out of the phase when they catch every bug going around school, and we had enough emergency savings in case something pricey cropped up.

Essentially, we considered the odds and wagered that the coming year would be like the last year. And we pretty much lost that bet.

Illness happens, even to generally healthy people. For various reasons, our family ended up having unusually frequent visits to the doctor (not to mention the dentist, but that’s another issue). So we quickly exhausted the upfront health “credit” that our plan provides, to cover costs before the deductible must be met. We probably won’t top our deductible, but we’re still (ouch) a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket. Our overall bill at the end of the year would probably be lower if we had gone with a higher premium and a lower deductible.

So it’s no surprise to me that a survey from the health insurer Aetna found that consumers think health care benefits decisions are confusing, second only to retirement savings in complexity.

The Aetna Empowered Health Index Survey was conducted over the phone, including both land line and cellphones, by KRC Research in late July among 1,500 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percent.

A quarter of Americans who have health insurance told the pollsters that they found it difficult to make the right health decisions. They said the available information was confusing and complicated (88 percent), there was conflicting information (84 percent), and it was difficult to know which plan is right for them (83 percent).

Also, 81 percent said they found it difficult to make decisions because they didn’t know the cost of various medical procedures.

It all sounds dishearteningly familiar, as we prepare to evaluate our choices again.

On the plus side, health plans this fall are required by the Affordable Care Act to provide a simple-language “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” form, to help consumers compare health plan options. Consumers Union, which helped test the format of the disclosure form before it was adopted by the federal government, offers a sample form online. It also includes a coverage example of how much certain events, like having a baby, would cost under the plan. You also can give your opinion on the form you receive online. The forms are available to people insured through employers, as well as those shopping for insurance on their own. If you don’t get such a form, you should contact your insurer or your employer, Consumers Union advises.

How do you make decisions about health benefits coverage? Does your plan offer helpful tools for making the choice?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/the-annual-health-benefits-gamble/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Frequent Flier: Treat People With Respect, and Always Remember to Pack Duct Tape

Any country that has a stock exchange is on our radar, even places like the Maldives, where they recently opened an exchange. In the last six weeks I have been to 16 countries and flown more than 40,000 miles. I recently returned from Asia where I visited 10 countries in 14 days. I spend so much time in the seat of an airplane that when I go to the dentist I instinctively look for the seat belt when the chair is reclined.

My son thinks it’s all very glamorous, and he thinks I get to stay in all these luxurious places. He’s wrong.

I was in Ghana several years ago. There was a power shortage, and they had rolling brownouts. I was in the shower and there was no window in the bathroom. The brownout hit, and I could barely get out of the room without hurting myself.

After that, I started carrying a small flashlight and a roll of duct tape with me wherever I go. You never know when you’ll need those things. As a guy who travels a lot, I can tell you duct tape solves a lot of problems.

I love to eat like a local wherever I go. In Bangkok, I eat the street food, and enjoy it. One of my favorite restaurants there features little plastic stools for patrons to sit on. Four people can dine for $15, including tip. It’s not luxurious, but it is great food.

People often ask me if I experience any anti-Americanism. I really haven’t. I am a true believer that no matter where you go, if you treat people with respect, a nice smile and a little bit of charm, they will go out of their way to help you. I have rarely been proven wrong.

I always want to be very respectful of cultural differences, but sometimes those differences can get confusing. On my first trip to Japan, I met with seven Japanese businessmen. The gentleman who arranged the meeting also invited me to dinner that night with the group. At the end of the meeting, they thanked me and said goodbye with no mention of the dinner. I whispered to the person who set up the meeting and asked him about dinner plans. He was quite dismissive and said they were no longer available. I thought I must have offended them and I felt terrible about it. I went to go eat dinner by myself.

Several weeks later my business partner and I received a letter telling us the Japanese businessmen wanted to proceed and partner with us. I was astounded. I really thought I had screwed up. Years later I told the story to an American businessman who lived in Tokyo and was married to a Japanese woman. He explained that the guys I met with probably lived far from the city center and didn’t want to commute home late. Since they had already decided to go forward with us, there was no need to take me to dinner. If they had decided not to do business with us, they would have taken me to dinner so I wouldn’t be offended.

Another time, I was doing some business in Karachi. I found out you could order whiskey through room service. But I was told I had to complete two forms. When the waiter delivered the whiskey, he had the forms with him. One was to certify that I was not a Muslim. No problem. The other was to certify that I was using the whiskey for medicinal purposes only. Well, whiskey can help you relax, so that was no problem either.

By David Grayson, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=40b52a58f7149286996d29dbb7c4e006