Posts Tagged: FSAs


5 Ways to Better Manage a High Deductible

So you’ve got a health plan with a (gulp) high deductible. That’s pretty common these days, so you’re not alone. In fact, a good chunk of the plans sold on the insurance exchanges are high deductible health plans (HDHPs).

High deductible plans are great because they cost less when it comes to the monthly premium. But you need to be prepared for when, or if, the bills start coming in.

Here are five things you can do now to make managing your deductible easier.

1)  Save save save

One of the worst things you can do if you have a HDHP is to go without savings sufficient to cover your deductible. This is why all HDHPs come paired with a Health Savings Account option. HSAs let you save money tax-free. If you’re going to save for medical expenses anyway, why not get a break on taxes too? If your health plan is through your employer, they may already be making contributions to your HSA. In addition, you might also consider putting in your  own monthly contribution, as most employers only contribute enough to fund the full deductible over the course of an entire year. If you want the savings to build up faster, you’ll need to kick in some funds yourself.

2) Know what’s excluded

Because of the Affordable Care Act, all health plans must provide preventive care free of cost. That means these services won’t count towards your deductible. It’s also common for plans to exclude certain co-pays or have a separate deductible for prescription drugs or for out-of-network providers. What you don’t want is to be in a situation where you thought you were fulfilling your deductible when you uhh, really weren’t.

3) Understand family deductibles

Do you have your spouse or children on your health plan? Each member of the family may have a separate deductible. To make things more confusing, there are no standard rules for how plans calculate these. Each individual member may just need to meet their deductible separately. Or it may be the case that one member of the family must meet the entire family deductible for coverage for everyone to start. Check with your health plan if you’re unsure.

4) Know the plan year

Most plans use the calendar year (January to January) for resetting deductibles. However some use a fiscal or academic year. Also keep in mind that the deductible year could be different from the rollover period for FSAs or HRAs for your plan.

5) Reevaluate if needed

HDHPs tend to work best for people who either don’t use a lot of health care or who, if they are sick, have a lot saved up. If you anticipate a lot of expenses year after year, you may find a lower deductible plan works better. Don’t be afraid to switch plans at your next opportunity if this feels like you–remember, you won’t lose any money left in your HSA if you choose to do this. HSA funds belong to you once they are in your account, regardless of if you change plans or employers.




End of the Year Health Insurance Tips

What? It’s December already? It snuck up on us too. Here are a few things everyone should make sure to check out, check up on, or wrap up before the New Year starts.

New coverage

2014 marks the beginning of coverage via the health insurance exchanges. If you’re thinking about enrolling in a plan through the exchanges, December is the time. Even though the deadline to enroll has been extended to March 31, if you wait, your coverage won’t become effective until the month following when you enroll. For your coverage to begin in January, you’ll need to enroll and pay your first premium by December 15th.

Leftover annual benefits

Does your plan include benefits that expire at the end of the calendar year? This is common for preventive dental care and vision benefits. Make sure you’re not leaving anything out!

FSA or HRA balances

Do you have funds left in your FSA or HRA? You may lose any money that you have set aside but not yet spent. A new rule was just passed to allow employers or benefits administrators to roll over these funds, but it is only effective if your employer chooses to implement it (the rule is optional). Check if the rule applies to you, and if not, make sure you don’t have any unspent money left! HSAs are different – the funds in an HSA always roll over, year after year.

Post-deductible procedures

Have you met your deductible for 2013? Then the end of the year is a good time to schedule any elective procedures you might want to squeeze in before your deductible rolls over in January. You could save a lot in out-of-pocket costs by getting these services done while your plan is paying at its full benefit level (rather than early in the year when your deductible has not been met).

Onward to 2014!



Flexible Spending Accounts Now Allow up to $500 Rollover

If you’ve ever had an FSA, you might be familiar with that situation at the end of the year, when you’re either scrambling to spend down the money before you lose it, or you forget about it in the blur of the holidays, and next thing you know, it’s gone.

There’s good news. The US Treasury Department just announced a new rule that would let you rollover up to $500 at the end of each year. For the 14 million Americans that have an FSA, this could mean a lot of savings as well as the ability to be more flexible as you plan your medical expenses.

The new benefit could start as early as 2013, but this may be up to your specific employer. Before you get too excited – employers must decide between offering the new rollover or offering the grace period option, which currently gives you an extra 2 and a half months to spend down your FSA after the end of the year.  Check with your employer or plan sponsor for exactly what your benefits will be.

And if you do find you’re able to take advantage of the new rule, just don’t, uh, forget about the money again the next year, ok?



Saving Money with the FSA Grace Period

Did you miss out on spending down your FSA last year?

Hold on, all might not be lost. FSAs and HRAs are “Use it or lose it” accounts, meaning if you do not spend the funds by the end of your plan year, the money disappears.

But did you know that some employers have a grace period for FSA and HRA spending? Federal tax regulations allow them to extend the time for incurring expenses by 2 and ½ months into the new year. The extension is optional (not all employers have to offer it), but if you do have the opportunity, it’s a great way to make sure you don’t lose any of the money you’ve already set aside for medical expenses.

How do I know if I have a grace period?
Talk to your HR Department or benefits administrator. Remember, the grace period must be a benefit they have established in advance–it’s not a last minute change they can just throw in!

What if I don’t have any funds left in last year’s FSA or HRA?
If you’ve already spent down your 2012 FSA or HRA, the grace period doesn’t affect you. You’ll just continue spending your 2013 funds as usual.

If I have expenses for services I got in 2013 during the grace period, how will the money be deducted?
Employers will apply the expenses to your 2012 balance first, and then your 2013 balance (assuming you also elected an FSA or HRA for the current year).

What if I have an HSA?
The grace period doesn’t apply to HSAs because money in these accounts always rolls over year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it.


How to Start a New Health Plan Off on the Right Foot

Welcome to a new year, with new health benefits. You just chose a new health plan and now it’s in full effect. But most people don’t have a full understanding of how their benefits work. This means that many of them end up losing money in their spending accounts, paying more for care, or getting claims denied.

Follow these tips to make sure you start off 2013 right.

Plan for your Deductible
Guess what–deductibles have gone through the roof over the years, so that often means more cash out of your pocket. If you are one of the 65% of people who have a high deductible health plan, it’s especially important for you to plan your spending. High deductible health plans (HDHPs) come paired with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), or accounts where you can save money just for medical expenses free from taxes. To be best prepared, you should plan to save at least the amount of your deductible in your HSA as soon as possible.

Network It
Most health plans have some restrictions on what providers you can see or they cover much more on visits to in-network providers. Find out the type of plan you have and whether you have a provider network. HMO plans are the most restrictive–don’t even think about going to a non-network provider unless you want to pay the full cost. PPOs have some more flexibility, but services in-network will be less expensive. POS plans give you more freedom, but often involve more paperwork for out-of-network visits. And finally, FFS plans allow you go to any provider you want, but few companies offer this option anymore.

Get Spent
Did you sign up for an FSA or HRA? Don’t forget about the money in your account. These funds disappear if you do not spend it by the end of the year. Do some planning now by finding what eligible expenses you expect this year so that when they come up, you’ll know to pay with your FSA or HRA, insteading of other funds. If you have an HSA, the same “Use it or lose it” rule does not apply. Your savings will roll into the next year.

Practice Prevention
All health plans must cover a list of dozens of preventive care services, all free of cost. Get your money’s worth by checking out the list and asking your physician what they recommend. Even if you have a high deductible plan and you have not met your deductible, you can still get these services completely covered, as long as you don’t have a pre-existing condition that already required one of these tests or screenings. Learn more about preventive care here.

Have a Non-Emergency Plan

What do you do on the weekend or in the middle of the night when you’re not sure if a medical condition is serious enough for the ER or can wait for a doctor’s appointment?  Most health plans have a variety of options for these uncertain situations such as nurse advice lines or extended-hours urgent care. Know your options so that if you’re caught in the situation, you can choose to avoid an expensive ER visit. Of course, always go to the ER if you are having a life-threatening emergency.


Before 2013: Squeeze Extra Dollars Out of Your Health Benefits

Before the new year rolls around, putting some attention towards your health benefits can save you a lot of money. Quick! You have limited time to make the most out of your health plan for 2012, and then to get ready for 2013.

Spend down your FSA or HRA 

If you have a Flexible Spending Account or Health Reimbursement Account, check on the date it rolls over (for most of them, it’s January). You’ll lose the funds if you don’t spend them in time. Some employers offer a grace period until March 15th, but after that date, the money disappears. See what expenses can be counted.

Don’t confuse your HSA. These funds stay with you year after year!

Take advantage of your deductible

Most plan deductibles also roll over at the end of the year. If you have already met your deductible, think about whether there are any other services or procedures you need to do soon. Scheduling them before the year ends might save you from having to pay completely out of pocket in the new year.

Fund your HSA

If you have an HSA, you already know that the money that goes into it is free from taxes. Did you also know that you can keep depositing up until April 15th and your contributions will count towards your 2012 income? That means you can add more funds if you didn’t deposit enough this year or aim for the maximum contribution to get the most tax savings.

Review next year’s plan

It’s time to look at what’s new for your health plan (or all the important details if you switched plans!). The top benefits to focus on? The deductibles (individual and family, as well as in-network and out-of-network), any changes to the drug formulary, and any changes to the provider networks. These last two rule changes often surprise consumers who think their plan will be the same as it was last year.


5 Mistakes To Avoid During Open Enrollment

 This post originally appeared on the Mint.com blog. 

The last few months of the year usually mean time to think about choosing new health benefits. Some people think about Open Enrollment as an opportunity—it’s your chance to switch plans! But for most, it’s a looming headache: time to stress about choosing the right benefits.

It could be that there are just so many more options today than ever before. Several years ago, most employers just gave you a choice between a low-cost HMO and a more expensive PPO. Now the options have multiplied into an extended family of acronyms. To make things worse, employers and health insurance companies are pushing more costs onto consumers, so it’s even more important to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

As you approach your Open Enrollment period, here are 5 common mistakes, and how to avoid them.

1)   Doing nothing

Almost 9 out of 10 of us just keep the same benefits we had last year. That’s not necessarily a problem, especially if you’ve done your research and your needs haven’t changed. Just make sure nothing substantial has changed about the plan either. Sometimes premiums increase or  benefits get cut, and over time, the plan that was once a good deal may not be the best one for you anymore.

2)   Shopping only by the premium

It’s easy to focus on how much health insurance will cost you each month because it’s a clear, predictable expense. But don’t overlook what you’re paying for or you may find yourself facing big costs later on, such as high deductibles or co-insurance.

3)   Over-insuring

It’s possible to have more insurance than you need. While good-for-you from a health perspective, this might not be that great from a financial perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the cheapest plan if you are a healthy individual—because we are all at risk for those unexpected medical events. But it might mean choosing a plan that has a more limited network, like an HMO if you are not seeing any specialists. Or choosing a high-deductible plan if most of your visits are routine preventive care.

4)   Under-insuring 

Of course, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction choosing too minimal of a plan either. If you choose a high deductible plan, you should be able to pay the deductible at any time if needed. In an ideal world, you’d have lots of time to save up cash to cover your deductible in an HSA linked to the plan. But if you enroll in a high deductible plan, and suddenly have some medical bills before you’ve accumulated enough in your HSA, you could be in trouble.

5)   Ignoring the savings accounts

FSAs (Flexible spending accounts) and HRAs (Health reimbursement accounts) pretty much mean free money on the table. But there are estimates that as few as 20% of people set up an FSA when it’s offered.

If you’re turned off by the idea of keeping receipts and faxing photocopies, give these savings accounts another chance. Now, most issue debit-like cards and many merchants are set up to automatically recognize FSA or HRA eligible expenses—so you can spend easily. You should still keep receipts as proof, and you might still need them for certain expenses. But the tax savings are well worth the work.


Health Savings Plans: Making Sense of HSAs, HRAs, and FSAs

This post also ran on the Mint.com blog.

Did you eyes glaze over a little when you read that headline?  Well, sign up for a health care plan these days, individual or employer-sponsored, and that is the kind of alphabet soup you might have to wade through. More and more companies are looking to cut costs by offering high-deductible health plans (HDHP), also known in the industry as consumer-driven health plans (CDHP).  These plans feature lower premiums in exchange for a higher deductible—the part of care you pay for out of pocket before insurance kicks in.  They are often paired with some sort of savings account that allows you or your employer to set aside money to cover your expenses.

These savings plans can make a lot of sense from a tax-savings standpoint.  Funds can be set aside pre-tax or, if they are contributed later, deducted from taxes, so in effect any time you use the money to pay for your medical costs it is like you are getting a discount equivalent to your tax level.  That’s why it could be a smart move to set one up even if your employer doesn’t offer it as a benefit.

So which plan makes sense for you (if you have a choice)?  Let’s decode some of the TLA (three-letter acronyms):

HSA: Health Savings Account

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are a popular employee benefit: over 40% of companies offered an HSA in 2011, with 12% more expected to do so in 2012.

How it works: HSAs allow you to set a portion of each paycheck aside into an account that accrues interest like an IRA.  Employers or other people can also contribute to the account.

Who can have an HSA: Only people covered by a high-deductible health insurance plan, defined as a deductible of $1,200 for a family or $2,400 for a family.  If your employer doesn’t offer an HSA you can open one up on your own, so these are ideal for the self-employed.

What it covers: Qualifying medical expenses such as deductibles and co-payments.

Carry-over and portability: You own the funds that go into an HSA, and anything that you don’t use carries over from year to year.  If you leave your job you can take the funds with you.

HRA: Health reimbursement account

While an HSA is like an IRA in that it’s an investment owned by an individual, a health reimbursement account (HRA) is a benefit offered by an employer that ends when the employment does.

How it works: Only employers may offer HRAs, and only they may put money into it.  The money is not considered income, which means that it is not subject to income or payroll taxes.

Who can have an HRA: An HRA can be used with any kind of health plan.  You cannot open up an HRA on your own.

What it covers: An HRA is the only type of plan that can be used to pay insurance premiums as well as medical expenses.

Carry-over and portability: The funds in your HRA belong to your employer, and when you leave your job any funds in the account stay with them.  Your funds might roll over year-to-year or they might not; that is up the employer.

FSA: Flexible savings account

Flexible savings accounts are like HRAs in that they are employee benefits, and employees can only use the funds as long as they are employed.

How it works: Unlike an HRA where employers fund the account, with an FSA the employee funds the account with a portion of each paycheck.  The money is set aside pre-tax so you get tax savings, but it does not accrue interest.

Who can have an FSA: An FSA can be used with any kind of health plan, but you cannot open up an FSA on your own.

What it covers: An FSA may only be used on qualified medical or dental expenses (not premiums).  As of 2011 you cannot use FSA funds on OTC medicines without a doctor’s prescription.  In 2013, there will be a cap of $2,500 on the total funds in an FSA.

Carry-over and portability: An FSA is a “use it or lose it” plan; any unused funds in the account at the plan’s year-end are forfeited back to your company.  You also lose access to the funds at the end of your employment.

You may even come across a couple of other options, such as an HIA (health incentive account) or an RRA (retirement reimbursement account).  Whatever you encounter, just look at how the plan gets funded, what it covers, and whether you get to roll over or keep the funds.  Track deposits and expenditures carefully, keep receipts for tax purposes, and enjoy your savings!