By Dan Tropeano, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania
People are taking a more active role in how they purchase and pay for health care, with consumers driving more of the decision-making process. With thousands of Pennsylvania residents purchasing health coverage on their own, and a growing number of people enrolling in consumer-directed health plans offered at work, understanding the health care system is more important than ever. This is especially true during open enrollment, the time each fall when most people select or change their health benefits for the following year.
To help people make more informed health care choices, here are five tips to become a savvy health care consumer. Following these tips may help improve your health and keep money in your pocket.
Comparison Shop: There are many online and mobile resources available to all consumers to help them comparison shop for health care. Examples include Health4Me, a mobile app for iPhone and Android devices that offers quality and cost information for more than 755 common medical services. Another option is Guroo.com, which provides market-average prices based on data from more than 40 million insured individuals.
Select the Right Setting for Care: There are many places for people to seek care, including urgent and convenience care clinics. These options are often more cost-effective and offer shorter wait-times than other health care facilities. Everyone should have an on-going relationship with a primary care physician, as well as specialty professionals such as a dentist and optometrist, for routine and preventive care, while emergency rooms should be reserved for true emergencies. The growing popularity of telemedicine is making routine and preventive care available online and through mobile devices, usually offering lower cost and convenience. According to Richard Kimball, founder and CEO of HExL, Inc., this means leveraging devices in the home – weighing scales, glucose monitors, heart-rate monitors. To have these devices in the home, which you can then use to monitor patients via telemedicine to keep close tabs on the patient, keep them stable, in the comfort of their own home and out of the hospital. Consumers should evaluate all of these options when selecting care, and share their patient care records with a primary care physician to improve coordination.
Know Your Health Care Providers: An estimated one third of privately insured Americans have received a surprise medical bill, defined as their health plan paying less of the total tab than they expected, according to a study by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. One way to help avoid that is to have a firm understanding of what is involved in the procedure you’ll be having, as well who will be involved. Consider getting in writing the names of the health care professionals providing care and ensure they are all in your health plan’s care provider network, including physician assistants, anesthesiologists and radiologists. You have the right to request only in-network care providers.
Fill Coverage Gaps: Maintaining your health includes more than just medical insurance. Consider adding dental and vision plans, which are often cost-effective and cover annual teeth cleanings and eye exams. Many vision plans also offer reduced pricing on frames and lenses. Some recent studies suggest there is a connection between oral and vision health and overall health, so adding a dental and vision plan may help prevent more serious medical problems in the future.
Earn Wellness Incentives: Employer wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular, with the value of those incentives doubling to $594 per employee since 2009, according to a study from the National Business Group on Health. People may earn rewards for lowering their cholesterol, quitting smoking or losing weight, with common incentives including gym membership discounts, lower premium costs or merchant gift cards. Check with your employer or health plan to understand what is available to you.