FSA Friday with Sean - 3/23/18: How to pay less for healthcare needs

For most Americans, healthcare comes through their employer, and prices for expenses -- like copays and doctor visits -- are largely determined by the available plans, before you even sign up.

But with the rising cost of healthcare in the U.S., skipping treatments or postponing doctors' appointments has become an unfortunate -- and unnecessary -- reality for some Americans.

Don't let these price increases affect your health when there are many ways to cut the costs of medical care! For this week's FSA Friday, we're going to explore some easy, money-saving tips to boost your finances.

1. Check prescription drug prices

We covered this in last week's column, but you may be spending more than you should for prescription drugs by not paying with cash. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) may sometimes negotiate higher prices for co-pays than the actual cost of the drug, so you should always ask your pharmacist first if there's a difference between cash and insurance-covered prices.

2. Use free preventive care options

The Affordable Care Act mandated that insurance plans must offer a minimum standard of preventative services that are free of charge to the participant, as long as they stay within their insurance networks. Healthcare.gov has a full listing of these services, which includes vital screenings like colonoscopies, vaccinations, blood pressure testing, and more.

3. Enroll in an FSA/HSA

Maybe we're partial, but if you're offered an FSA or HSA option through your employer, this is one of the easiest ways to cut costs by reducing your taxable income. The money contributed to your account is exempt, so every purchase you make, whether it's sunscreen, co-pays or OTC medicines, is covered by tax-free money. That's way better than paying out of pocket!

4. Consider generic drug options

When you purchase name-brand medications, you're usually paying a premium for the name on the bottle. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like pain relievers and antihistamines have identical generic versions that can offer real cost savings.

Another note -- be wary of pricey combo drugs. Instead of buying a less-effective combination cold and allergy medicine, check ingredient lists. It's often far cheaper (and effective) to buy a standard decongestant and a separate allergy medication. Of course, check with your doctor if you're unsure of how much you need of each active ingredient.

5. Track your health spending

This sounds like a no-brainer, but tracking spending is a major consideration if you have a deductible.

Let's say you anticipate having a medical procedure sometime over the next year. You can use this opportunity to make a huge dent in your deductible so that insurance can cover unexpected expenses later in the year.

Another option is to hold off on the procedure until later in the year, after you've met your deductible, when your insurance might possibly cover the whole cost. Both options make sense, as long as you track your costs so you can time your healthcare costs to match your insurance coverage.

For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to check out our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


FSA Friday with Sean - 3/16/18 Are you overspending on prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs can be expensive. But your insurance provider is getting you the best prices, right? Well, maybe. According to a recent study by the University of Southern California (USC), this might not be the case, as up to 23% of Americans are paying more for insurance co-pays than they should.

The controversial co-pay "clawback"

In short, this prescription overpayment ("clawback") is the practice of charging more for a co-payment than the total cost of the actual drug. It stems from the "middle men" -- the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that handle drug claims for insurance companies -- trying to grab back these funds from the pharmacy.

So, despite what your insurance provider says, in some cases, it's cheaper to pay for prescriptions with cash rather than through insurance.

According to The Balance, these PBMs are intermediaries between insurance companies and other arms of the healthcare industry. They can negotiate with both pharmacies and drug companies to get the best rates. ExpressScripts and CVS Caremark are two examples of these organizations.

Here's how it works: If you pay for a prescription through your insurance and owe a $10 co-pay, you probably assume that covers your end, and the insurance covers the rest. But what most people don't realize is that the drug could cost just $7 out of pocket. The PBM then "claws back" an extra $3 -- in other words, if you paid with cash, the drug would actually be cheaper.

According to Kaiser Health News, the USC study revealed that prescription drug overpayment is a much larger issue than we realize. It analyzed prices of 9.5 million prescriptions in the first half of 2013 and incredibly, found that overpayments were nearly $135 million during that six-month period.

How FSA users can avoid clawbacks

If you're using flex dollars to cover prescription drug co-pays, you could be subject to these same clawbacks as those filing through traditional insurance payments. Your best defense is to speak up! In most states, you can ask your pharmacist for the pricing difference between insurance co-payments and paying out-of-pocket.

Shockingly, some insurance plans have gag clauses that prevent pharmacists from telling patients the pricing difference. The National Conference of State Legislatures has additional information on these orders, so be sure to see where your state lands on this issue.

But these gag orders shouldn't stop you from asking questions! If you can't find a pricing difference between co-payments and cash, opt for cash payment and then file for FSA reimbursement later. If it's the same price, use the convenience of your FSA card.

With the right information on your side, you may just end up saving hundreds of dollars each year -- money you didn't even know you were overspending in the first place!

For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to check out our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


FSA Friday with Sean - 12/1/17 - FSA deadlines, smart shopping and HDHP confusion

Happy December, everyone! It's a busy time here at FSAstore.com. The year is ending, which means many of you have FSA deadlines rapidly approaching!

Of course, year-end deadlines mean year-end headlines. The three articles we selected this week highlight just how different our understanding of health savings and flexible spending accounts is across the country.

More importantly, even though FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com have the best Learning Centers on the web, these links illustrate how many more people we need to help understand their accounts.

In these links - all of which were published this week, by the way - we see how studies can turn up very different results. One claims HDHP members are smarter shoppers. Another claims these people aren't using their options the right way. Which is right? That depends on your situation.

Luckily, our Learning Center and calculators, along with 24/7 customer service, and a 100% eligibility-guarantee can help clear up this confusion, and help everyone benefit more from their benefits.

HDHPs decline as sole benefit plan option - Employee Benefit News

Just 28% of U.S. employers are considering offering HDHPs as their sole benefit option to their employees in the next three years. This is a reduction from a high of 44% in 2014, according to PwC's Health Research Institute study.

Consumers with high-deductible health plans may be smarter shoppers - Reuters

Even when consumers have health plans that require them to pay a high amount out-of-pocket for care, they often don't talk to doctors about the price of treatments or shop around to get the best deal, a U.S. study suggests.

Most Americans with high-deductible health plans don't shop or save - Insurance Journal

A new study suggests that despite the rise in these high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), most Americans who have them aren't saving, shopping around for better prices, talking to their doctors about costs, or making other consumer-type moves.

For the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow our Learning Center, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.


Do you know these 4 common insurance terms?

The renewed healthcare debate in Washington over possible replacements to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has left many Americans scrambling to learn more about possible changes to their health coverage. However, as pivotal as these plans are to individuals and families' long-term health and financial stability, recent surveys have shown that Americans lack a critical understanding of some of the most common terms related to health insurance plans.

A recent survey conducted by PolicyGenius of 2,000 American health insurance consumers found that less than half understand how their health plan works. The survey found a 25% gap between consumers' perceived and actual knowledge of these key health insurance terms: “deductible", “co-pay", “coinsurance" and “out-of-pocket maximum."

At FSAstore.com, we are committed to educating our customers about healthcare benefits and the potential of consumer-directed healthcare accounts like FSAs and HSAs, and we don't want to leave you flat-footed when it's time to choose a health plan! Here are the terms you must know to make an educated decision with your healthcare benefits.

  1. Deductible

An insurance plan's deductible is the amount that a plan holder has to pay out-of-pocket before the insurance company will begin to cover the costs of qualifying medical services. For instance, if you are enrolled in a plan with a $1,500 deductible, you will have to cover the cost in full of most medical expenses until you meet the $1,500 threshold, at which point the health insurance plan will begin coverage for qualifying expenses. Note that some expenses, such as prescriptions, often fall outside of the plan deductible requirements.

  1. Co-payments

Many health plans will offer a type of co-payment or co-insurance arrangement where the plan holder will pay a portion of the overall cost of the healthcare service. In the case of co-payments, these are fixed amounts that are paid for a health care service, which can vary for different services within the same plan, such as prescription medicines, doctor's office visits and consultations with medical specialists. In most cases, plans with lower monthly premiums have higher co-payments, deductibles or co-insurance, while higher monthly premium plans will have lower co-payments.

  1. Co-Insurance

Co-insurance is a different type of cost-sharing arrangement than a co-payment in which the plan holder will split the costs of a health plan service, often after a deductible has been met. For instance, if an individual's insurance plan offers a 70/30 split for medical expenses after the deductible is met, an expenditure of $100 would mean that the insurance company would pay $70, while the account holder pays $30. Depending on the structure of the healthcare plan, co-insurance splits may also vary if a patient goes outside of his/her physician network, at which point a larger cost-sharing split may be required for these services.

  1. Out-of-Pocket Maximum

With all of the previous terms in mind, the out-of-pocket maximum is an important number to keep in mind when choosing a health plan. The out-of-pocket maximum is the most a person will pay over the course of a year in deductibles, co-payments or co-insurance, after which point the insurance company will pay 100 percent of all covered health expenses for the rest of the year. So if a plan has a $6,000 out-of-pocket maximum, the plan user would have to incur $6,000 worth of deductible, co-payment or co-insurance payments out-of-pocket before the insurance company began covering expenditures in full.

For everything you need to keep your family healthy year-round, rely on FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits.

Health Care in America

It’s a source of anxiety for a lot of Americans: health insurance costs. According to a Rasmussen poll, 53% of Americans have an “unfavorable” position on the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (PPACA), thinking that the new health reform law will increase costs.

According to the New York Times however, health insurance costs are already high, with or without the ACA:

“Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. They are typically prescribed more expensive procedures and tests than people in other countries, no matter if those nations operate a private or national health system.” (New York Times, June 2013)

The quote above is substantiated by an “International Federation of Health Plans 2012 Comparative Price” report. That report examines medical and hospital costs for different countries. One scary trend shows Americans are overpaying across mostly every category.

Be sure to regularly check in for health reform updates on our FSAstore.com blog. And, we'll keep you posted on all things FSA!