Bart Herridge, registrar, said he understands why some ACU employees are skeptical about the health benefits changes in 2011. He represented staff as the university planned the changes.
“There’s a degree of shock value to it just because it’s such a different paradigm from the way we’ve done health insurance,” Herridge said.
But Herridge said he believes the new plan will cost less than or the same as the current plan for most employees, although there will be exceptions. The changes will allow employees to see the true costs of health care and make informed decisions, Herridge said.
Employees can use the information and various tools available to them to optimize the new plan, Herridge said. He and Wendy Jones, director of human resources, offered some practical ways staff and faculty can make the new health benefits work best for them.
1. Get a flexible spending account.
Anyone who has expected annual health care expenses should consider getting a flexible spending account, Jones said.
“It’s a great way to save tax dollars and have that money on January 1,” Jones said.
Now is the time to get the account, since the amount of money employees can lay aside from their salaries to use for medical expenses will be limited by federal law to $2,500 from the current $8,000 cap starting in 2013, Jones said.
Herridge said his family is going to use its flexible spending account before drawing from the Health Care Account, the money ACU provides employees for medical and prescription costs at the beginning of every year.
“That way if there’s anything leftover from the year, it’s going to be the Health Care Account that rolls over rather than the flexible spending account that doesn’t,” Herridge said.
2. Use your doctor’s appointment wisely.
All employees will get a free annual doctor’s appointment. Jones said they should use this opportunity to get all the preventive treatments they need, which are 100 percent covered by insurance, and fill all the prescriptions they will need for the rest of the year.
Prescriptions will be especially important beginning in 2011 because many over-the-counter drugs will not be able to be purchased with the flexible spending account without a doctor’s signature, Jones said.
3. Compare prescription prices.
“Remember that prescription costs aren’t the same everywhere,” Jones said. “It can really pay to shop around.”
While prices vary over time, Jones said Sam’s Club offered the lowest average costs for prescriptions when Human Resources did a price comparison of local pharmacies and grocery stores last month. He said employees can ask about the BlueCross BlueShield discount offered at most stores, since ACU will be covered by BlueCross starting January 2011.
Generic versions of prescriptions can also cut expenses. Staff and faculty can explore alternatives to popular prescriptions on the BlueCross website and ask their doctors about using them, Jones said.
4. Make use of BlueCross tools.
Employees will have access to BlueCross’ Treatment Cost Advisor, a website that gives average costs of treatments in the user’s local area, Jones said.
Another online tool BlueCross provides is the Care Comparison, which allows users to compare local health care facilities and providers in categories such as cost, customer satisfaction and safety history.
5. Choose a treatment provider.
Jones said employees should put safety first when deciding which health care facility to visit when they need medical treatment, but they should also recognize the differences in cost between providers. The doctor’s office is typically the least expensive, followed by the minor emergency clinic, and the emergency room is almost always the most expensive, Jones said.
The new health benefits plan may feel more expensive, Herridge said, but he encouraged faculty and staff to examine their real out-of-pocket spending under the current plan. He said he believed the new plan will empower many families to reduce their annual medical expenses.
Jones said any employee with questions can call the ACU Benefits Help Line at 1-866-994-7852.
“We realize what a huge change this is in the university,” Jones said. “We’re going to be walking through it together.”