Despite lingering Covid risks, employees consider cuts to health benefits

Fast technology company communications director Jason Alderman (right) talks to an employee on their first day at the office on March 24, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Inflation has pushed household budgets almost to breaking point. As a result, most people limit their spending, even when it comes to health and wellness.

But just as many Americans want to cut costs, US health officials expect a new wave of the pandemic this winter and new study emphasizes the importance of comprehensive health benefits.

While the Biden administration is considering ending the public health emergency over the next few months, many of those who fell ill but survived Covid suffer from persistent health problems, studies show. And now as much as 23 million Americans According to the latest estimates from the US Department of Health and Human Services, they have what is considered long-term Covid.

Open enrollment season is in full swing and this is an opportunity to review your coverage, said Gary Claxton, Senior Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to national health.

More from your health, your money

Here are more stories about the complexities and consequences of long-term Covid:

employees spend 18 minutes, on average, looking at their benefits during open enrollment, according to Rob Grubka, CEO of Health Solutions for Voya Financial. “They spend more time deciding what to watch on Netflix.”

But this year brings additional uncertainty, he said. “Due to rising inflation, Covid and prolonged Covid, we are underestimating how different things might look in the future.”

At the same time, according to the Elevate platform, more than a quarter of employees have postponed visits to wellness centers and inspections and consider cost the most important factor when choosing benefits for the next year.

Employees make choices to stay afloat, said Brian Cosgray, CEO and co-founder of Elevate. Unfortunately, some make compromises, such as refusing necessary medical care, which could cause problems in the future, he added.

To balance your overall health and long-term disease risks and financial constraints, Claxton suggests re-evaluating your employer-sponsored health insurance during open enrollment, which typically lasts until early December.

Nearly 159 million Americans rely on employer-sponsored health insurance. Here are four key considerations as the open enrollment season kicks off:

1. Health plans

First, consider what your health insurance costs you.

Annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance — the amount he spends each year on insurance, often divided by 12 monthly payments — average $22,463 this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is slightly more than a year ago.

On average, employees contribute $6,106 to cover the family bonus, and employers take the rest.

However, more workers have deductibles—the amount you pay before insurance kicks in—and that deductible is also growing. In 2022, the average one-time deductible was $1,763, more than double what it was ten years ago.

But “don’t just look at the monthly cost of your health insurance,” Cosgray advised. “Most employers offer multiple health plan options,” he added, such as a high deductible plan with a health savings account or a more traditional PPO.

“If you expect your health care costs to be low next year, a high deductible health plan combined with an HSA can be a good way to save money,” he said. “However, if you have a chronic medical condition in your family and usually get a deductible, the traditional plan combined with [a flexible spending account] can save you more over the course of the year, even if the plan’s monthly cost is higher,” Cosgray said.

“If you’re going to choose a high deductible plan, you should be able to pay the deductible if someone gets sick,” Claxton added. “The plan might be cheaper, but what if you can’t afford to use it?” He noted that most people cannot afford even $500. “If you go to the hospital, the chances of your out-of-pocket expenses being at least $500 are pretty high.”

There are often employer-supplied resources designed to help you choose between benefits offerings, which may include webinars and specialized benefits specialists.

“Many health insurance plans now have great tools to help you manage your choices based on what you expect your health care costs to be,” said Thomas Belmont, head of health and benefits practice at Gallagher.

“It will help you get your bearings.”

2. Medical savings accounts

3. Life and disability insurance policies

4. Health Benefits

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