Guest opinion: Dealing with health-care costs
By now almost everyone is neck deep in the annual health insurance renewal process. Whether you are covered under an employer plan or are in open enrollment as an individual, you are probably looking at increased premiums and increased out-of-pocket limits. Again.
Because of this ongoing trend, people paying high premiums for coverage still have to think twice about using their plans because of how much more they will have to pay out of their own pocket. This is known as the “affordability gap.”
But it isn’t just a financial issue. It’s a health issue as well. The most common response to the affordability gap is to put off medical care. Avoiding care in the short run costs you more in the long run. Premiums will continue to go up forcing you to take an even higher out-of-pocket limit. Those health issues that weren’t treated will get worse, and when avoiding care is no longer an option you’ll end up paying even more than you would have.
Many in our area are also being hit by the recent shutdown of the Colorado HealthOp. Roughly 112,000 people across the state now need new coverage and face the costs of both moving up to for-profit insurance company rates and the annual renewal increase. This is also pushing out-of-pocket limits up as people struggle to keep monthly premiums in sight.
A health-care forum was held at Basalt Middle School on Nov. 12. Some in attendance gave examples of huge increases for high-deductible plans that were also their only option. More questions were asked than answered. But of all the questions posed the one with the most urgency was, “What can we do right now?!”
The only answer was “be better consumers of health care.” That means taking charge of the cost of the care you get. But most people simply aren’t equipped to do that. The language and the system are too confusing and time consuming to be do-it-yourself. When people try, they get increasingly frustrated and certain that the system is taking advantage of them.
Make no mistake, going forward we all have to be far more engaged in managing our health care, including costs. No one else will have your best interests at heart, so expecting “the system” to do what’s best for you is asking for trouble. That said, most people are going to need someone to help them take control.
Resources that just provide information don’t go far enough. People need live experts to help them manage the system and reduce health-care costs. Health-care advocates are one example. Telemedicine (remote access to primary care physicians 24/7) is another. Services like these have been focused on marketing to large corporations. It’s been difficult for other businesses and individuals to access them.
Fortunately, they’re becoming more available and affordable. Just one use often saves enough to cover the cost for the entire year (using telemedicine to stay out of the emergency room could save you $1,200 or more). The time and headaches you can save make them even more valuable. All that considered, monthly access fees are usually low ($10-$20). Services are often packaged to provide better value and results. Look for plans that cover family members at no cost and have no limits on use or savings. That way you are very likely to save more than the plan cost even with just normal health-care use.
Maybe you’ve seen the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association ad in the paper titled, “Health Care is Expensive.” The program offered, Your BeneFITS, is an example of a service package. Your BeneFITS is a mobile app that connects you to the live help you need in just two or three taps. GSCRA, Glenwood Insurance and my company, Right BeneFIT collaborated to make the program available locally.
The chamber’s home page has a link where you can learn more about it. You can also download a demo app. Use company code “demo” when asked.
Health care is not going to get solved any time soon. In the meantime, the costs keep rising. You have to look out for yourself to avoid paying more than you should. If you can do that on your own, congratulations. But if you need help, it’s a lot less expensive and much easier with it than without.
Marc Riddick has 27 years of health-care consulting experience. His company, Right BeneFIT, creates leading edge health-care solutions. The Your BeneFITS app is available to individuals covered by themselves or through an employer. It is also available to employers (http://www.yourbenefitsgscra.com). The Right BeneFIT app is available to self-funded employers with 100-plus enrolled employees (http://www.rightbenefit.com). Reach Marc at (970) 309-3139 or email@example.com.
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