Understanding and Choosing Your Health Benefits

October 22, 2010

Consumers spend an average of 10 hours researching a new car1, but only one hour or less reviewing their health benefit options in open enrollment season which begins this fall for millions of Americans.

“Open enrollment is a great time for consumers to review their benefits in detail and ask questions,” said Austin Pittman, chief growth officer of UnitedHealthcare and who oversees the company’s open enrollment activities. “We encourage people to make an effort to fully understand their options so that they can make better health decisions, which can lead to better health and cost savings.”

UnitedHealthcare offers these five tips to consumers when it comes to open enrollment and understanding health benefits:

  • Know and understand what’s in your benefit package. Most people know to ask about premiums, co-pays and deductibles, but you should also ask about things that you might not expect to be covered, such as wellness programs, health coaches and more. Also, take time to understand the total cost of each benefit plan option if you’re offered more than one choice – it’s not just about the monthly premium deducted from your paycheck.

  • Check to see if your doctor(s) is in network. Staying within your plan’s care provider network is a great way to save on out-of-pocket costs. Even if you don't plan to make any changes to your benefits this year, double check that your doctor remains in-network.

  • Anticipate next year’s health expenses. If you are expecting any significant, predictable health events in the next year, such as a surgery or having a baby, you should compare treatment costs. Then you can estimate how much you would have to pay out of pocket and may decide to open a health care account such as Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account to pay for those expenses tax-free.

  • Take a quick Health Insurance 101. There are a number of free resources, such as, that can help you get a basic understanding of health insurance. Also, being familiar with terms such as “formulary,” which is a list of approved prescription drugs, may help you save money.

  • Don’t forget about prescriptions. Which drugs are covered and how much you pay for generics vs. brands may differ among health plans. Be sure to check out your health plan’s prescription drug reference guide to identify lower-cost pharmacy options including discounts, mail service, over-the-counter alternatives and other money-saving opportunities.

1Source: Harris Interactive for Zillow Mortgage Marketplace