Here Are 5 Ways to Maximize Your Health Benefits Before Year’s End

The holiday season is at hand, and many California residents are already making year-end plans to travel and celebrate with friends and family. Yet there is one year-end plan that is often overlooked: taking steps to make the most of your health benefits. Doing so could help improve your health and save you money.

Here are five health tips to consider before the end of the year:

Get Ahead of Health Issues: People with employer-sponsored, individual, Medicare and Medicaid plans have access to many preventive services that can help detect diseases and encourage well-being. Take advantage of the various health screenings — such as blood pressure, cholesterol and depression – and timely vaccines, such as a flu shot, that are available through your health plan before year’s end. Doing so now may give you a head start on those healthy New Year’s resolutions. Check with your health plan, as many eligible preventive services are available at no additional cost, as long they are delivered by care providers in your plan’s network.

Delay Non-Emergency Services: A growing number of employers and consumers are choosing health plans with higher deductibles; in fact, nearly 45 percent of Americans are enrolled in such plans, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. If this applies to you, check if you have reached or exceeded your deductible, which is the amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in. If not, it may make sense to delay non-emergency services, such as a joint replacement, until 2020. The cost for those services would then apply to your 2020 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, increasing the likelihood that your health plan would pay for more of your medical expenses for the remainder of the year.

Schedule Recommended Health Services: The opposite is true if you have already reached your deductible. In this case, check with your health-care professional to schedule recommended medical services, as those will likely be covered (all or in part) by your health plan. If possible, tell your health-care professional that you’ve reached your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, and see if there’s any needed follow-up care that can be arranged before the end of the year.

Understand Your Spending Accounts: Many people have spending accounts with funds earmarked for health-care services. Health savings accounts (HSAs) offer tax advantages, and the money can roll over from year to year. If you contribute money to your HSA before year-end, you can help pay for qualified medical services in 2020 or even later while lowering your taxable income for 2019. On the other hand, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) require the money be spent before the year ends, and unused balances are not rolled over into the next calendar year. So if you have funds left in your FSA and you need to order contact lenses, schedule a dental cleaning or refill prescriptions, for example, now’s the time to do that.

Prepare to Use Your 2020 Benefits: This year’s open-enrollment season is wrapping up. According to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, more than one-third (36 percent) of Americans said they devoted less than one hour to the process, meaning they may not have explored some of the many options available to them. Before the year is out, take time to review your health plan and check with your employer’s HR department to determine what well-being incentives or other resources might be available when 2020 starts. Nearly 75 percent of employers offer well-being programs, with an average incentive of $762 annually, according to a recent study by the National Business Group on Health. By finding out now what incentives are available to you, you can help prepare yourself to start earning all or some of those rewards starting New Year’s Day.

Rebecca Madsen is chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare.