October 17, 2017

7 ways to reduce your health care costs

checkupsNationwide, the cost of health care is rising, and UAB is working to balance the impact of these costs on our employees and the organization. Here are some things you can do to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

1. Get annual check ups and screenings

The best way to ward off many illnesses and is not to let them sneak up on you. That’s why all UAB plans cover preventive care at 100 percent, with no deductible or copay for routine physicals, covered immunizations, routine screenings and certain preventive generic prescriptions. It costs you nothing to stave off more costly health conditions.

reduce co pays2. Reduce office visits and co-pays

Get help without leaving home for a number of common conditions that can be safely and accurately diagnosed without a physical examination. UAB eMedicine offers online clinical service at a discounted rate of $10 to employees and eligible dependents ages 18-65 who are enrolled in a UAB health plan.

Log in 24/7, answer the interview questions, pay $10 and a board-certified clinician will respond within an hour 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Any needed prescriptions will be sent directly to your pharmacy. If symptoms are too complex or advanced, patients will be referred for additional care at no cost.

Urgent Care Clinic3. Avoid unnecessary trips to the ER

A trip to the emergency room after hours or on weekends for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries can easily cost $100-$200 just for walking through the door. UAB Medicine Urgent Care clinic located at 125 20th St. South offers convenient access and a less costly alternative for those at the same price as an office visit.

Walk-in appointments are available 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Lab and X-ray services are onsite. Free parking is available in the attached deck.

4. Quit smoking

Employees enrolling in a UAB medical plan who have used tobacco products — cigarettes, cigars, pipes or oral smokeless tobacco — in the past six months must pay a $50 monthly nicotine surcharge on medical premiums. That’s $600 extra each year.

You can get that removed — and any surcharge paid in 2018 refunded — if you register for one of the free cessation courses by Jan. 31, 2018, and complete the course in person or online.

Free tobacco-cessation products also are available; the annual limit is two 12-week cycles of treatment.

earn rewards5. Get rewards for good behavior

UAB Employee Wellness offers a variety of ways to help employees live a healthy lifestyle by participating in health screenings, informative lunch and learns and more.

Participants in UAB’s Wellscreens program who have a healthy status in six measures — tobacco status, glucose, BMI, blood pressure, total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein — or who improve any or all during the course of the year, also are eligible for a one-time health insurance premium reduction. This past year, more than 1,900 eligible employees received up to $150 to offset the cost of insurance premiums. 

save taxes6. Save on taxes

At UAB, you can set aside money from your paycheck — before it is taxed — to pay for qualified health care expenses in two ways: flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. You’ll save an amount equal to the taxes you would have paid on the money you set aside. For example, if you set aside $1,000 you save about $250 in taxes.  It’s important to note that the health savings account is only available as part of the Viva Choice consumer-driven health plan.

Any amount you choose, up to the IRS annual limits, is deducted from your payroll in equal monthly installments and can be accessed using a debit card provided for the account or by submitting a reimbursement claim form.

For 2018, you can set aside up to $2,600 in a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA) for health care expenses, a tax savings of more than $600. It’s best to estimate your expenses carefully before signing up; any FSA funds you do not spend by the year’s end are forfeited.  Employees can also choose to participate in a dependent care FSA and set aside up to $5,000 for eligible daycare expenses pre-tax.  Deductions for FSA elections will be reflected in your January 2018 payroll.

Health savings accounts (HSA) are employee-owned accounts — paired with consumer-driven health plans — to be used for qualified medical expenses now or saved for long-term expenses. If you enroll in Viva Choice, you will be enrolled automatically in an HSA, and you will be ineligible to contribute to a health care FSA.

The amount of pre-tax dollars you can set aside in a HSA for 2018 is $3,450 for single coverage and $6,900 for families. Unlike the FSA, all the money you invest is yours — even if you don't spend it all this year — and balances carry over year to year. UAB will fund the first $400 for single coverage and $800 for non-single coverage for employee’s enrolling during annual open enrollment; that is yours to use whether you invest additional funds or not.

premium assistance7. Premium assistance

New for 2018, eligible employees can apply for medical premium assistance to offset their cost for UAB’s medical plan.  The new program will provide medical premium assistance – a subsidy – to covered employees whose household income, based on family size, is 1.5 times the federal poverty level or less. 

Employees enrolling in medical coverage for 2018 will have 60 days from January 1st to apply by submitting an application and required tax documents to UAB’s Benefits Office.  Once approved, premium assistance will be reflected on your paycheck and will retro back to the effective date of coverage.  Subsidy will equal $76 per month (over $900 annually) which is equal to the lowest cost single plan offered.