Feb 09

From the day that we step foot into our sophomore, junior and senior year of high school, most of the adults around us start telling us how important it is to get into college so that we can get that job with “good” benefits. It’s almost as if the benefits are the goal, not just the good job. However, more often than not, when the goal is reached, a lot of people make the mistake where they do not take the time to figure out what their benefits packages have to offer until they need them.  Because I happen to work in the benefits industry, I see first hand the impact that not knowing your benefits can have on your pockets. The following are certain questions that need to be asked and information that should be gathered prior to the day that you need them in order for you to maximize the benefits you are given.

Find Out All Benefits
You wouldn’t know it, but a lot of companies actually offer a slew of goodies in addition to the traditional medical, dental, vision, life insurances and 401K packages. There may be hidden employee discounts for larger companies who have relationships with car rental companies, fitness centers, hotels, airlines, cell phone services, etc.  They don’t always advertise them, but it is written in black and white in the folder they give you at your benefits meetings.

Weigh All Options
If you don’t do anything, you must read through all of your health benefit materials and make a sound decision regarding which plans to take. Too often people think with their pockets and choose the cheapest plan, but when an emergency arises, they find that the cheap plan barely covers their ailment or worse, doesn’t cover it at all.  Take the time to make sure you read all the information before making the decision.

Check With The Plan, Not The Doctor
Insurance companies have several different plans they offer, so your doctor telling you that he participates with Cigna (or whatever company you select) is not good enough.  You must contact the insurance company directly, with your plan selection information on hand and ask them if your doctor is in the network with your plan. Understand that doctors participate in a lot of different networks – they may only take the PPO plans with your insurance company, but you selected the HMO. They may participate but only on their discount program.  Your doctor is not the authority on this subject and insurance companies will laugh in your face if you try to get a claim paid because “my doctor told me they take the plan”.  Doctors are not employees of the company, they are independent contractors, so the company is not going to assume responsibility for incorrect information provided by an outside vendor.

Max Out Your 401K
I cannot stress this enough. Yes it can take a small chunk of change from your paycheck but if your employer matches you dollar for dollar on your contributions, take advantage of it!  They may limit their matching with you contributing somewhere between 3% and 6% of your salary (meaning you give up 3-6% of your paycheck to the fund and they match that amount) but you are always free to contribute more than that.  Even if you don’t contribute additional money, you absolutely should contribute up to the maximum they will match you. It’s an automatic 100% return on your contribution making it just as good as free money.

Confirm Limitations
Some plans will sell you on the benefits before you get to the fine print.  Yes, that dental plan may provide crowns at a measly $200 each, but there may be a waiting period of up to 12 months for that benefit to kick in. The vision plan says you can purchase eyeglasses and contact lenses at a great price, but they don’t tell you it’s one or the other, not both in a given time-frame.  X-rays can only be taken once every 3 years on some plans.  Does your plan cover you if you need to see a specialist? Read the exclusions and limitations and follow them. Most plans will use them to back up their denial of your claim.

Select A Doctor
If your plan says you have to “select” doctor from the list and be assigned (usually an HMO or Managed Care plan), you must do so as soon as possible. What you don’t know is that doctor or dentist has a list that they use to confirm you selected them and that list is printed once a month and there is a cut off date of the printing of the list for the first of the month. For example, if the cut off date is the 15th of any given month, and you call to select your doctor on January 16th, you will not be on the list until March 1.  This delays any kind of treatment you need for that month and a half. Select your doctor at the time of enrollment so that you are good to go on the day you need to call and make an appointment.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to find out the way your plan works or where you have to go in order to use it. This list is not inclusive of all important information, but if you take the time to do the research it will save you a lot of time and energy in the end.

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