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Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 6/14/19 - The smart retirement play? Expect the unexpected

Though I'm nowhere near retirement, I imagine it's a magical day. Better than graduating high school. Better than buying your first home. Better than selling that boat you never should have bought in the first place. Retirement is supposed to be the time for you to finally exhale, knowing you made your contribution to the world and letting someone else take the reins.

But, as we're learning, "exhaling" doesn't mean you get to put life on hold. As today's new retirees are learning, all those lazy mornings and relaxing walks need to be tempered with smart health and financial management, so your retirement funds can last.

90% of New Retirees Are Facing This Common (And Expensive) Problem - Katie Brockman, Motley Fool (as featured on NASDAQ.com)

Maybe that intro sounded like a little bit of fear-mongering. But that's not the case. According to a recent survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute, 90% of recent retirees experience significant health issues "sooner than expected."

How soon? Of those respondents, roughly 60% experienced health issues five years earlier than expected.

Of course, health care problems don't come with a schedule or agenda, so a lot of these numbers might be speculative. But it doesn't change the fact that preparation should be first and foremost, front and center of your planning… before and during your retirement years.

One key tip offered up by the author? Knowing exactly what Medicare does (and doesn't) cover for your retirement. In a different NRI survey we learned that nearly 75% of Americans don't fully understand the way Medicare works (with a shocking number believing Medicare coverage is free).

Education first, folks. With Medicare, you'll still be paying premiums, deductibles and copays. Even some routine preventive treatments aren't covered, and you'll need additional coverage for prescription drug discounts. In other words, these are costs you need to be ready for, otherwise that nest egg can deplete pretty quickly.

Also, while you might be nowhere near the typical age for long-term care needs, life isn't a straight line. A need for long-term care can come earlier for some people, and can be a catastrophic hit if you're not ready. (That's right, Medicare doesn't cover this, either.)

The article goes on to highlight health savings accounts (HSAs) as a smart way to bolster your retirement funds -- something we can really get behind. But while it might not be the happiest of topics, the article is an eye-opening read that might have new retirees rethinking that month-long European cruise. It's time to think about the "long game" and whether or not you've really budgeted your funds the right way.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Basics

Podcast-Eligible: Our Co-Host on What He Gets (And What He STILL Doesn’t Get) About FSAs

Kevin is moving to the Pacific Northwest so this is his last episode! To commemorate his time at FSA Store, here's recapping what he learned about FSAs and HSAs before and AFTER joining the company, as well as what he thinks could be done better to benefit and educate regular consumers.

If you want to know what prompted this discussion, check out Kevin's article on spreading the word about FSAs!

And as always, for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

Real Money: How to comparison shop for health care

If you're like most people, you love scoring a deal. Happy hours, cash-back apps, and end-of-season sales are your "go-to" ways to save money. You wouldn't think twice about shopping around for a new car or a hotel stay. Why shouldn't your health get the same level of attention?

According to a recent Health Affairs study, most people don't comparison shop for services. Folks believe comparing costs is important, but only 3% actually do it. Knowledge is one big deterrent — 75% of people don't know where to get the info they need. And some are scared to ruffle any feathers with their current provider.

We get it — healthcare deals aren't lurking in your inbox like Nordstrom's latest flash sale. But there are major price differences between providers. Accepting the first offer may mean paying more than you need to. If you are ready to make a change, we have you covered. Here are some ways to save by comparison shopping for health care.

Stop overpaying for prescriptions

It's expensive to manage a chronic condition — especially with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Even with a health savings account (HSA), monthly prescriptions can be a tough pill to swallow. Luckily, you have more choices than the nearest drugstore.

WeRx or GoodRx are a couple of good comparison websites. By plugging in your prescription, you can compare prices at big box stores. If a pharmacy buys directly from a drug company, there may be extra savings they can pass along to you. You can also use these websites to see if mail order options are cheaper.

Compare prices for common procedures

When your doctor suggests a routine procedure — like an ultrasound or MRI — be sure to carefully jot down all the specifics. Don't leave the office without asking for the procedure's CPT code.

Nonprofit websites like FAIR Health manage the country's largest database of health insurance claims. They allow you to plug in a CPT code and to see the average local cost. You may be shocked to see the wide range of prices in your city for the exact same service.

For example, I plugged in my Nashville ZIP code and "sleep study" to see how much it costs for a diagnostic test. FAIR Health's estimates range from $2,845 (in-network) to $6,617 (out-of-network). That's a massive difference.

You can use the estimate to negotiate directly with the provider you choose. It may also come in handy if your insurance company pays less than you expected. FAIR Health offers step-by-step instructions on how to navigate both of these scenarios.

Never accept the first offer

There is nothing fun about wrestling with medical bills. But the truth is, some headaches are avoidable. Would you drop hundreds of dollars on home repairs without getting multiple estimates? Probably not.

You owe it to yourself to follow the same rules for health care. By uncovering affordable options, you may be less likely to delay a costly — but necessary — procedure. These proactive moves could keep you healthier for years to come.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

FSA Friday - 1/11/19 - Healthcare spending is still all about price

What a headline, right? I mean, it makes sense -- one of the reasons healthcare spending continues to rise is because the costs are rising just as quickly. Despite countless healthcare policy reforms and system restructuring, the U.S. still pays more for healthcare than any other country in the world.

What's worse (and this might not be a surprise, either) we're not getting more for our money. Let's take a look at this week's article to shed a little more light.

Prices Still Responsible for High U.S. Healthcare Spending - Jacqueline LaPointe, REVCycle Intelligence

In 2003, authors Gerard F. Anderson, Peter Hussey, and Varduhi Petrosyan published what's now considered a landmark study of U.S. healthcare spending, "It's the Prices, Stupid." At the time, the U.S. was already leading the world in health spending, but at nearly half the cost we see today.

Because of this inexplicable growth, all three authors reunited for a follow-up study to see what's driving it, even after all the constant reforms and policy adjustments.

Well, it turns out some things never change. Using updated data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Anderson, Hussey and Petrosyan show that all the changes have delivered nearly identical results -- just with exponentially rising price tags in tow.

Some key takeaways:

  • U.S. healthcare spending per capita was $9,892 in 2016, up from just $4,559 in 2000, which was the time period in the 2003 article.
  • More recent U.S. spending level was 25% higher than that of Switzerland, 108% greater than Canada, and 145% higher than the OECD median.

To put it in a relative context, our nation spent 17.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare in 2016, nearly double the OECD median of 8.9%.

So, what are we getting for our hard-earned money? As it turns out, you don't always get what you pay for. Because the U.S. still devotes fewer healthcare resources, like physicians per capita, acute care beds per capita, and hospital admissions per capita.

To boot, we also saw 26% fewer hospital beds, 20% fewer practicing nurses, and 19% fewer practicing physicians per capita versus the median.

Some of the cost differential was attributed to private vs. public sector financing, which accounts for some of the wider gaps in costs -- sometimes up to 50% more for specific services.

The article does a good job breaking down the spending problems by diving into more acute detail about hospital mergers, Medicare funding and more. It's a dense read, but it's also a necessary one, considering that we're staring down the barrel of more reform. And, like most of you reading this, we're hopeful that 2019 will be the year things shift back toward the healthcare consumer.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Living Well

FSA Friday - 12/21/18 - Why are people skipping necessary healthcare treatments?

Healthcare costs are rising -- this we already know (and have for a long time). But it seems like this exponentially growing burden isn't just a financial problem anymore -- it's affecting the everyday well-being of patients in need.

Let's dive into this week's headline to learn a little more...

17% of Families Make at Least One Large Healthcare Payment a Year - Jacqueline LaPointe, Revcycle Intelligence

According to this alarming piece from Revcycle Intelligence, families are choosing to delay necessary medical care until they can afford large payments, not only affecting their wellness, but also the bottom lines of healthcare providers.

The JPMorgan Chase Institute determined that one in six families make at least one "extraordinary" healthcare payment each year (which is defined as "at least $400 and up to 1% of annual income." And the average payment amount exceeded $2,000.

It seems like people are either choosing to save their money before seeking medical help, potentially putting off necessary treatments solely for the sake of finances. That's why it's no surprise that healthcare visits and spending get a boost every March and April, when most US citizens receive their tax refunds.

In fact, about 70% of tax filers receive a refund, which represented the largest cash intake of the year for approximately 40% of individuals in the Out-of-Pocket Spending Panel. Within a week after receiving their tax refunds, surveyed individuals increased healthcare visits and spending by 60%.

Of course, much of this excess spending could be avoided if patients sought care at the time of need, and not just when their finances allow. The article suggests that more patient-friendly billing and collection strategies could encourage people to stay on top of their health without so much worry about the bills that follow.

The author goes on to say that less-complex billing strategies would encourage those who are on the fence to seek treatment as needed, leading to better patient outcomes, and more consistent revenue for healthcare workers and facilities.

We can't help but wonder if combining these billing strategies with flexible spending accounts could ease these burdens even further, promoting healthier lifestyles regardless of income or tax bracket.

FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Living Well

FSA Friday - 12/14/18 - Americans getting less healthcare, still paying more for it

"Affordable healthcare." To many Americans, those words are practically an oxymoron. Despite what we assume to be everyone's best efforts, people still struggle to afford anything but the most basic care services, even if they have adequate coverage.

And it's a trend that might be here a while… at least if this week's headlines are any indication. Because, as we're learning, far too many Americans are putting off healthcare services strictly due to cost. And yet, the average healthcare cost-per-person still rose this past year. Let's see what's going on.

20% of Americans are deferring healthcare because of cost, poll finds - Kelly Gooch, Becker's Healthcare

According to an NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, which surveyed more than 3,000 households, 20% of respondents were putting off treatments and visits due to out-of-pocket costs. And it's not just checkups -- important services were being delayed for the same reasons.

Unsurprisingly, younger (under 35) respondents led the charge here. We've spent a good amount of bandwidth discussing millennials and their perspectives on modern healthcare. But we never expected such a large percentage of them to avoid doctors because of costs. Yet a massive 34% of those surveyed admitted to just that.

Even more alarming, 41% of respondents under 35 said the same struggles extended to members of their households, as well.

The article gets more granular with the figures, discussing prescription drug costs and the notable differences between age groups. It's a sobering read, to say the least.

Americans spent $10,739 per person on health care in 2017 - Marlene Satter, BenefitsPRO

Healthcare cost and wellness is certainly becoming a vicious cycle. Because premiums, deductibles and prescription costs all continue to rise, regardless of adoption rates. And the largest hits are affecting those who don't have employer-sponsored benefits, and have to pay for healthcare themselves.

And because fewer people are adopting health benefits, costs of services and medications will continue to rise until a better balance can be achieved.

With some frightening detail about the specifics of this problem, the article is well worth your time.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Eligibility

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.

Basics

FSA Friday with Sean - 2/23/18 - Catching up on recent legislative updates

Hey folks, it's great to be back after a week away! But it seems like lot happened while I was soaking in some sun. So, let's get to it.

We stay on top of legislative developments year-round at FSAstore.com to keep you updated on any changes that may affect your health spending. Let's recap what has been a very busy beginning to 2018.

Two-year budget deal passes, ending government shutdown

After government shutdowns in late January and early February, the President signed into law a two-year budget bill that will keep the government funded through March 23, giving Congress time to write the legislation to keep it open for the next two years.

The funding bill also includes increases to the debt ceiling, an increase of budget caps by $300 billion, and $90 billion in disaster relief for the people of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

This also brought to mind another news item you might have missed...

The impact of Individual Mandate repeal

It has been a while since Congress passed a bill that directly affected FSA and HSA account holders. But the recent tax reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law was notable, thanks to the repeal of the Individual Mandate.

Let's back up -- the individual mandate is a key feature of the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as "Obamacare") which states Americans must enroll in a specific level of healthcare coverage or be subject to a tax penalty for being uninsured.

Fortune reported that the repeal could cause significant increases in premiums, and ultimately fewer insured families across the U.S.. In fact, it's expected that up to 13 million Americans will lose insurance coverage by 2027. Obviously, this idea needs some further thought -- and likely some further legislation -- to stabilize this part of the insurance market.

Solutions to the issue are yet to be seen, but may come with potential changes that could directly impact HSA owners - such as an increase to HSA maximums, the full amount you're eligible to contribute to your account each year. Previous legislative efforts to stabilize Obamacare have included a proposal that would have effectively doubled the current limit, calling for a 2018 HSA increase from $3,450 (individual)/$6,900 (family) to $6,650 (individual)/$13,300 (family).

Time will tell how Congress will choose to handle the Individual Mandate repeal, but you can rest assured we'll be reporting back when it happens.

This was a lot to digest after a week off. But to make sure you don't miss any updates for your own health and financial wellness, be sure to check out our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.