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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Brace for open enrollment changes price hikes

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PHILADELPHIA (10/28/09)--No one knows for sure if health care reform will pass this year, but one thing is certain: Your 2010 health insurance premium will continue to climb. Now experts are issuing new warnings about the high cost of ignoring your open enrollment packet (Philly.com Oct. 20). If you don’t digest the details of your information packet, you may miss important changes. For example, some employers are reducing the number of health plan options offered, and yours may be eliminated; to keep the same physician, you may have to pay higher out-of-network costs. Also, many employers are increasing the co-payment on brand-name medications, while others are requiring--in lieu of co-payments--that you pay a percentage of the actual cost (The New York Times Oct. 10). If you are in an health maintenance organization (HMO) or preferred-provider organization (PPO), expect out-of-pocket costs, premiums, and co-payments to increase by about 10% in 2010. Some companies are hiking deductibles $50, $100, or more. Surveys reveal that about one of four employers offers a high-deductible health plan. More employers are pushing these plans because they cost about 20% less than an HMO or PPO. High-deductible plans may have deductibles of $2,500 or as much as $5,000, although some employers contribute $500 to $1,000 into a health savings account that you use to offset the deductible. One important benefit of health savings accounts is that the money stays in the account for next year’s expenses if you don’t use it all, unlike use-it-or-lose-it flexible spending accounts. As premiums spike, expect employers to shift those costs your way. The average health care premium will increase to $9,120 in 2010, up from $8,607 in 2009, according to human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates, Lincolnshire, Ill. (Miami Herald Oct. 18). Out-of-pocket expenses are expected to increase to $4,023, up from $3,656 in 2009. Bottom line: Read your enrollment packet cover to cover. Don’t assume you can keep the same coverage. If you do nothing, your employer may sign you up for what you had before, which may not be the best choice given plan changes, or--worse--drop you altogether, leaving you with no coverage at all.