9 ways to reduce your health care costs in 2021

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Caculator and stethoscope,Medical expenses conceptNationwide, the cost of health care is rising, and UAB is working to balance the impact of these costs on our employees and the organization through measures that include keeping premiums flat this year. 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 for physicals, immunizations, routine screenings and generic preventive prescriptions. It costs you nothing but time to stave off more costly health conditions.

2. Reduce office visits and co-pays

Receive care without leaving home for a number of common conditions that can be safely and accurately diagnosed without a physical examination. UAB eMedicine On-Demand Urgent Care Questionnaire offers online clinical service at a discounted rate of $10 for employees and eligible dependents ages 18-75 who are enrolled in a UAB health plan.

 Complete the online form any time, and a UAB Medicine provider will respond between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week. Any needed prescriptions will be sent directly to your pharmacy. If symptoms are too complex or advanced, patients will be referred for additional care without charge for the online consultation. A web camera is not required. 

3. 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 in the door. The UAB Medicine Urgent Care clinic, located at 125 20th St. South, offers convenient access and a less costly alternative for urgent care 

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. The clinic offers on-site lab and X-ray services. Free parking is available in the attached deck.

For urgent care from home, an UAB eMedicine On-Demand Urgent Care Video Visit enables you to visit face to face via video with a trusted UAB Medicine provider, similar to an in-office appointment. Providers are available 24/7 to evaluate symptoms, make a diagnosis, recommend treatment and send any necessary prescriptions to your pharmacy. This option is best if you think you may have a more urgent common condition that may require a physical exam. A smartphone (preferred) or computer with web camera is required, and you will need to download the UAB eMedicine Video Visit app, which is available free from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. You must be at least 18 years old, and the cost is $15 for employees and eligible dependents who are enrolled in a UAB health plan.

4. Quit smoking

Employees enrolling in a UAB medical plan who have used nicotine products — tobacco or e-cigarettes — 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 2021 refunded — if you register for one of the free cessation courses by Jan. 31, 2021, 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.

5. Set aside to 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.

Any amount you choose 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. Deductions will be reflected in your January 2021 payroll.

For 2021, you can set aside up to $2,750 in a 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.

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 2021 is $3,600 for single coverage and $7,200 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 $600 for single coverage and $1,200 for non-single coverage for employee’s enrolling during annual open enrollment; that is yours to use whether you invest additional funds or not.

6. See if you’re eligible for premium assistance

 To ease the cost of medical premiums for qualified employees, UAB offers a premium-assistance program for eligible employees. Covered employees whose household income, based on family size, is two times the federal poverty level or less. Employees are required to re-apply each year for the program. Details are available in the open enrollment toolkit on the UAB for Me portal. 

7. You may qualify for pharma co-pay assistance

 Prescription benefits for all UAB-provided health insurance — traditional and the consumer-driven plans — are managed by Express Scripts, which offers a co-pay assistance program for certain specialty medications that enables eligible employees to reduce their out-of-pocket costs. Express Scripts proactively enrolls eligible members in this program.

8. Have your drugs delivered

 For people on long-term maintenance drugs, Express Scripts offers home delivery for a 90-day supply of medications at a discounted rate with free standard shipping. Once you’ve set up your account, you can refill and renew your prescriptions from the website or mobile app available in your device’s app store.

9. Join My Health Rewards

All UAB, UAB Hospital, and UAB LLC employees who elect to enroll in a UAB medical plan can earn up to $350 for healthy behaviors throughout the year through My Health Rewards, a UAB Employee Wellness program. Examples of health behaviors include completing age/gender-specific screenings, participating in care management programs, staying active and getting a flu shot.  Activate your account at uab.edu/myhealthrewardslogin and explore new ways to earn cash rewards.