Next year, you'll likely pay more for your workplace health benefits – but it may not be obvious from where the bite will come.
As companies head into open-enrollment season, many say they are reluctant to boost health care premiums too sharply in these economic times. Instead, workers can expect to pay significantly more for out-of-pocket items.
Employees' charges – deductibles, copayments and other fees – are expected to jump 10.1 percent from 2008, to an average of $1,880, according to a projection by benefits consultants Hewitt Associates. By contrast, health care premiums are expected to rise 7.8 percent, after posting double-digit percentage gains in four of the last five years. In 2008, out-of-pocket costs also increased 10.1 percent.
Your copays or per-visit/per-prescription fees can vary depending on the type of health plan they choose. Hewitt says the average employee spends only about five to 15 minutes on open enrollment, and nearly two-thirds of workers select the same option they picked the previous year. So many people may not notice any new charges, which often aren't as obvious as changes in premiums. Of course, they'll probably figure it out once they start getting bills.
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Lauralee Schiraga, a Massachusetts nurse, says she was surprised when she was billed $250 last month for a breast biopsy. She called her health insurer and was told the bill was a copayment for an outpatient procedure.
“It never occurred to me for one second they would charge me $250 for an outpatient procedure,” Schiraga said. When she closely reviewed her employee benefits information, she found the copayment listed in the middle of a page full of small text.
Employers defend higher fees as a way to place a greater cost burden on workers with the highest expenses. Also, forcing employees to pay more out-of-pocket makes them more aware of how expensive medical services really are, some employers say.