For those born between 1985 and 2000, Millennials, the challenges of adulthood are either just beginning to set in or are just around the corner. We’ve even coined a rather creative term for it — “adulting.” It’s the idea that doing anything expected of a successful adult human is better placed in its own category, another reality criss-crossing our lives’ journeys.
One area of adulting that seems more confusing than most is navigating the world of health insurance. In conversations with friends, I noticed that we had more questions than answers when it came to how to choose a health plan. So, for the greater good, I pried myself away from Instagram and my vinyl collection to chat with Tony Sciulli, a senior client marketing representative with Highmark. Mr. Sciulli has worked with Highmark’s customers for over 17 years, helping them adopt health insurance strategies that allow employees to have a bigger say in their coverage. While he’s not a Millennial, I found him to be very understanding of the challenges facing my generation.
Corey Florindi (CF): Is there anything first-time health insurance buyers overlook or place too much importance on?
Tony Sciulli (TS): The first thing that comes to mind is the deductible. People pay a lot of attention to the deductible, and the higher the deductible is, the more they’re afraid to go with a plan. However, that higher deductible comes with a lower monthly price tag, generally.
It’s just like your car insurance. If your collision deductible is $1,500, your premium will be lower than if your coverage only has a $500 deductible. The ideal situation is that, whatever health coverage you choose, you have that deductible money set aside somewhere. These days, many plans you get through an employer (and on the individual market too) come with a medical spending account, such as a Flexible Spending Account or a Health Savings Account. These accounts allow you to put that money aside on a pre-tax basis.
The point is not to look at a high-deductible plan and immediately think, “that’s not for me because I don’t have $2,000 lying around.” If that plan is $200 less a month in monthly premium cost, you could set aside the monthly savings, tax-free, and you’ll have plenty of money for your deductible.
Now, you should also consider health problems, medications — anything you know is going to have high expense during the year. It’s a personal choice. I’m just suggesting that sometimes people shy away because they’re risk-averse — but if they looked at the big picture, the smart choice might be to take that lower premium and put the money saved each month aside. That way the money stays in your pocket. You decide what to do with it rather than paying it into a premium and then you’re never going to see it again.
CF: That certainly makes sense, although it’s a hard mindset to overcome. A lot of people my age probably heard the same things growing up — you take the higher premium with the lower deductible.
TS: It was the same with my parents. Pay more now so you don’t have to later. Well, what if I never have to pay later? Why am I throwing money away when I could just take that difference, stash it in an account — hopefully on a pre-tax basis depending on what’s offered — and manage any additional expense as it happens rather than paying upfront and maybe never getting to use what I paid in? We seem to do that math pretty well as consumers in so many other industries, but it breaks down for a lot of people when it comes to health care.
CF: How large a role should insurance plans play in career choices — for example, if you have a great-paying job offer with so-so insurance versus a job that pays less, but has excellent insurance.
TS: It’s certainly on the list, obviously along with salary, potential for growth in career and earnings, does the company have a future, is there a matching 401(k) — and then things like paid time off or the flexibility to work from home.
The balance of what’s most important on that list varies person to person. To me, having health insurance is really important, because I’m looking to protect not only me, but my wife and kids. Both my kids play sports, so a fracture is just around the corner on any given day. So a good health insurance option, and what kind of money I have to pay to have that coverage, certainly have to be considered. But again, it’s back to math. If it’s $10,000 more here in annual salary, but they’re not giving me health insurance, that extra salary might offset the cost of getting my own insurance.
If you’re 22, right out of college, healthy, run four times a week, it’s understandable that coverage may not be your top priority. But where are you in the life cycle? Are you married or engaged — expecting a child or thinking about getting pregnant? These things factor into how important health coverage is to you.
CF: People my age are very keen on individuality, and I think that would extend to health care. I don’t want to just be inserted into some policy. Are there ways I can tailor my policy to maybe fit my specific needs?
TS: I think that may be where the market is going, but we’re not quite there yet. With the large insurance carriers, there is a core of standard provisions that will be covered in every policy — things like preventive visits, annual visits or screenings that are driven by your age and gender, and so on. The things you are typically able to change involve your out-of-pocket liabilities: the deductible, copays, coinsurance, copays on prescriptions, copays on emergency room visits, on urgent care centers, on specialists. That tends to be where you’ll have choices among different plans.
One thing I took away from Mr. Sciulli’s thoughtful answers is that Millennials are not wrong in thinking that health insurance is complex. But that complexity also includes choices, and once we understand the factors to consider, we can find a policy that suits our health needs, lifestyles — and, of course, wallets. Do a little research, think about what will work best for you — and reach out to experts like Mr. Sciulli. Then enter the health insurance marketplace with confidence — you can do this!
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