Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Take Care on Benefit Options Employer Offerings Change with Times

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Take Care on Benefit Options Employer Offerings Change with Times

Article excerpt

You may find some surprises when you open your employer's annual benefits mailing this fall.

Many companies have revised their medical plans to reflect mergers and other changes in the health-care field.

Simply signing up for the same plan as last year may not get you the same choice of doctors, hospitals and other benefits. You may find that some options have improved while others are less attractive. "There are a lot of moving pieces" says Mike Butler, a principal with the Rowayton, Conn., office of benefits consultant Hewitt Associates. "Look at what kind of opportunities are presented this year." Indeed, it pays to watch the details when evaluating all of the choices employees are asked to make during the annual benefit-enrollment period. Disability coverage, life insurance and tax-advantaged "flexible-spending" accounts all can be valuable benefits, and employees owe it to themselves to choose wisely. "There is a lot at stake," says Anthony Hammer of benefits-consulting firm Hammer Associates Ltd., in Northfield, Ill. Once people sign up, he notes, they typically can't make any changes for a full 12 months. But doing your homework means looking past the initial sticker price. No longer are employees asked simply to choose between a traditional insurance plan, which reimburses you for covered expenses, and a managed-care plan, which restricts your choice of doctors but lowers your out-of-pocket costs. Increasingly, employers are offering a variety of plans, including one or more health maintenance organizations as well as "point-of-service" plans and "preferred-provider organizations" that combine some of the features of traditional plans and HMOs. With an HMO, patients are generally limited to doctors on the HMO's roster. Each plan comes with different minimums, coverage, doctors and procedures. It's important to evaluate the plans in light of your family's individual needs, and the decision isn't always straight economics. …

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