Open enrollment season for employee benefits is getting under way at many public and private employers, and the season offers an opportunity for a variety of health insurance and workplace stories of use to readers.
Health insurance is, of course, a vast and complex topic and one that demands full-time attention to truly master. But if you’re juggling several beats or new to this one, here are a few possible angles and links to helpful resources:
Medicare open enrollment
Enrollment periods for Medicare and supplemental plans starts Oct. 15. Some insurers and consumer advocacy groups are holding seminars now to help beneficiaries and new enrollees comparison shop among supplemental plans. This Wall Street Journal column is a good primer for both reporters and consumers; note that one of the sources quoted is a consultant who helps clients navigate Medicare decision-making.
If health insurance isn’t your regular beat or you aren’t up to tackling the entire Medicare picture, a spotlight on small businesses like that, which advise clients on topics like Medicare or nursing-home choice, could be interesting and informative for consumers considering hiring such a service. Google terms like “aging consultant” and “Medicare consumer consultant” to find practitioners in your area.
This is a fruitful topic from either the employer/corporate point of view, or as a consumer story. You can look for trends in coverage and costs at the employer level, and any changes in offerings prompted by the Affordable Care Act.
Which employers in your region offer the most generous plans? What are trends in dental and vision coverage in your area? What are companies seeing in terms of adult children staying on their parents’ group plans? The plans are one of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act and I’ve often though a consumer piece on the cost/benefit of that perk might be worthwhile. Is it possible that young, healthy adults could find cheaper high-deductible insurance on the individual market, or are the premiums paid to Mom or Dad’s plan the most economical?
As background, here’s the Society for Human Resource Management’s (PDF) 2012 Employee Benefits Research Report, which outlines trends in benefits and compensation, including health and wellness plans. It may be a helpful primer and the various categories of health and wellness coverage it discusses may prompt questions for local employers and insurance plans.
Mercer is a consulting firm that derives interesting health-benefits information from its annual workplace survey; 36 percent of workers survey last year told the firm that they expect changes to their employer-sponsored coverage as a result of health care reform, and 75 percent said they would rather pay more out of pocket than lose coverage.
Also be aware of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a project of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The MEPS is an intense database of reports, many with state-level data, that include statistics on employer-sponsor health insurance participation.
Health care exchanges
People not eligible for employer-sponsored plans may be wondering about the status of health care exchanges. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance to be accessible to all Americans by January 1, 2014. It gives states the option of creating a health care exchange that creates a competitive market to help consumers find affordable policies.
It’s a complex and controversial topic. Here’s a Kaiser Family Foundation primer that may help, and here’s a great Pew Center on the States graphic that shows a majority of states shrugging off planning efforts — even some that have accepted grant money aimed at developing the exchanges. Check your state’s status on the Pew map and update consumers on what, if anything, they may expect from state officials.