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Start the Year Off Right - Get the Most Out of Your Health Care Benefits


For most Americans, their health plan benefits began in January, regardless of whether they switched to a new plan during open enrollment or opted to stick with the plan they had in 2017. Understanding your coverage can help you get the most out of your plan, improve your health and even help save money in 2018.

Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealthcare, said people can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year by learning how to maximize their health plan’s offerings.

“People can save money on their health care if they take a little time to understand their plan and consider some tips such as making sure their doctor is in network or asking their physician about generic medications,” Madsen said. “Fully understanding how your health plan works not only can help reduce your out-of-pocket costs but also avoid surprise bills.”

Madsen offers the following tips that can help people get the most out of their benefits this year.

Learn the lingo – Using your health plan to your advantage starts with understanding basic health plan terms such as deductible, copay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum. A recent UnitedHealthcare surveyOpens a new window found that just 9 percent of Americans could successfully define all four of these important terms. Need a refresher course? If so, spend a few minutes to help better understand common health insurance terms, and help you apply them to your situation by checking your specific plan amounts. That way you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when you access care throughout the year. You can also take this fun quiz to test your knowledge.

Know what’s covered – You can usually find your coverage and benefits information on your insurer’s website or in the plan documents your insurer sent in the mail. Review this information before you start receiving treatment.

Stay in network – Choosing doctors in your plan’s care provider network will most likely mean you’ll pay less. Also, check out 24/7 telehealth services, which more and more plans are covering. “Virtual visits” can help save you time and money by providing convenient access to care for certain medical issues including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

Save on medications – Make sure your medications are covered by your plan, and ask your doctor about generics to see if there’s a more affordable and equally effective alternative to a drug you’re taking. Also, getting prescriptions through the mail is often a good cost-saving option. Most plans enable you to order up to a three-month supply of medication you take regularly, sometimes at a discount. Your medication will be delivered right to your home, saving you a trip to the pharmacy.

Shop around and get cost estimates – Several health insurers offer online health care tools and resources that enable you to check on the quality and cost of health care services and care providers before you make appointments. Be sure to double-check the cost with your care provider before getting treatments, as prices can vary significantly for the same procedure within the same city.

Take advantage of wellness programs – Many health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives – some more than $1,000 per year – for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or stopping smoking. Incentive-based wellness programs are designed to reward people for making healthier choices and being more engaged in helping improve their well-being.

Maximize your Medicare benefits – If you’re one of the more than 60 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, many of these tips will apply to you, but you can also check out these five Medicare-specific tips that can help you get the most from your plan this year. Doing so may offer double the rewards – better health and more money in your wallet.

If you’re enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare employer-sponsored or individual plan, check out this video that offers a roadmap to using your new health insurance plan.