How to save on healthcare costs in 2018

(BPT) – (BPT) – Your cable bill, entertainment expenses, grocery extras — these often top the list when people sit down to discuss where they can save money.

One expense you should consider in 2018 is your healthcare costs. Since autumn marks the beginning of the annual open enrollment period for employees, now is the ideal time to sign up for a new health benefit plan or make adjustments to your current plan.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are two options for people looking to save money pre-tax in the New Year. An FSA, which is provided by your employer, allows you to save funds for eligible healthcare expenses. An HSA — which you can obtain on your own or through your employer — is a tax-advantaged savings account that allows you to set aside money to cover medical expenses throughout your lifetime.

Both accounts have the major advantage that the full amount of your pre-tax dollars may be used toward care that you or your family may need. Employees who enroll in an FSA can contribute a portion of their salary pre-tax to pay for qualified medical care expenses within the plan year, while an HSA provides people with qualifying high-deductible health plans the ability to rollover balances and pay for current and future medical expenses.

Awareness and interest in HSAs has increased this year, with the highest levels of interest stemming from Millennials and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 Flexible Spending Account and Health Savings Account Consumer Research study commissioned by Visa and conducted by C+R Research. This nationwide online research was conducted in March 2017, with the FSA survey conducted among 1,306 consumers and the HSA survey conducted among 1,090 consumers.

Key features of HSAs that are most appealing to consumers include the ability to roll over unused dollars from year to year, pre-tax contributions, and having money available to pay for healthcare services.

The study indicates that 91 percent of FSA users agree that saving money, since contributions are pre-tax, tops their list of reasons for having an FSA. Sixty-four percent of FSA users believe that FSAs help them be more prepared and plan for healthcare expenses. In fact, 22 percent of their healthcare purchases (most notably routine doctor visits and vision expenses) on average would not be made if they didn’t have an FSA.

One of the most convenient ways to access funds in an HSA or FSA is with a Visa Healthcare Card, which allows people to use funds in their HSA or FSA to pay for qualified medical expenses wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, making it easy to pay for expenses such as:

*Co-pays and deductibles

*Prescriptions

*Dental services: Cleanings, orthodontia, dentures

*Physical exams

*Vision care, including exams, new glasses, laser eye surgery

*Hearing exams and aids

*Medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, thermometers

*Smoking cessation programs

For added convenience, many pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell healthcare products have the capability to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items when you pay for them, so you don’t have to wonder whether something is covered.

By using a Visa Healthcare Card at these locations, you no longer have to pay out-of-pocket and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for your medical expenses, saving you time and money!

These are all great reasons why 80 percent of FSA users surveyed prefer to access their funds with their FSA card over other methods, and why 76 percent of HSA users surveyed say a debit card linked to an HSA makes paying for medical expenses convenient. As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if it offers an HSA or FSA with a Visa Healthcare Card to provide easy access to your funds. To learn more, visit www.visahealthcare.com.

Read more

5 unexpected ways life insurance protects your loved ones

(BPT) – More than half of Americans who own life insurance say they purchased it primarily to cover final expenses if something happens to them, according to the 2016 Life Insurance Barometer study. Yet one in four also say they don’t think they have enough life insurance — and the mistaken assumption that life insurance is just for paying final expenses could explain why so many are underinsured.

While survivors certainly can use life insurance benefits to pay final costs, or to help replace lost income, life insurance proceeds can also fund other important financial objectives. Many of those goals cost far more than covering end-of-life expenses.

Here are five financial goals that life insurance can help fund for your loved ones after you’re gone:

Raising children

Raising a child born in 2015 to age 17 will cost a family more than $284,570 for basics like food, shelter and other necessities, according to the USDA and data from its Consumer Expenditures Survey. That figure does not include college tuition. Costs for special needs children can be even higher.

“Life is hard enough when you lose someone you care about, and financial stuff doesn’t make it any easier,” says Ryan McNany, whose mother, Mickey, passed away from colon cancer. McNany’s daughter, Mary, has Down syndrome, and had a special relationship with her grandmother. Their story is featured in Prudential Life Insurance’s Masterpiece of Love video series.

“Mom didn’t have a lot of life insurance, but what a gift to be able to have some insurance to help ease the burden,” McNany says. “I’m grateful that Mom had a little bit.”

College education

A four-year college degree can cost more than $100,000 for tuition only, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Factor in food, books, housing, transportation and other expenses and it’s easy to understand why the Institute for College Access and Success says that seven in 10 college seniors graduate with more than $30,000 in student loan debt.

Life insurance proceeds can help fund college educations, even if college is many years in the future for the child. Beneficiaries can invest life insurance payouts in tax-advantaged college savings accounts to ensure funds will be available when the child is ready for college.

Retirement income

The average cost of retirement is more than $780,000, the Motley Fool reports. Retirees with health issues, disabilities or high standards of living may need even more. According to the National Council on Aging, money challenges are common among retirees; 2.9 million senior households suffer from food insecurity, more than a third still owe money on a mortgage, and more than 61 percent have some form of debt.

Life insurance proceeds can pay off mortgages and other commitments to allow senior survivors to live debt-free, and can be invested in tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles to help ensure retirement income.

Business continuity

After receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dawn Fitch knew she needed to protect the future of her bath products company. Fitch had lost her own father, a lifelong entrepreneur, after a lengthy illness. She knew firsthand the impact such a loss can have on a business’s ability to continue operating and supporting surviving family members.

“People have invested time, money, energy into this business and into me, so I feel a responsibility to make it work,” says Fitch, whose story is featured in Masterpiece of Love. “I need to really make sure that this business, if I’m not here or if I can’t do anything, can run independent of me. Life insurance is peace of mind, and life insurance will help me take care of my family if I’m not here.”

Leaving a legacy

When he was just 10 years old, Hal Williams lost his father to a heart attack. “My mother was still working and my father’s little bit of life insurance helped keep food on the table, a roof over our heads and us going,” recalls the host of the Masterpieces of Love series. “When I had my own family, having plenty of life insurance for all of us was of singular importance.”

Williams’ loss of his father at such an early age, and the security life insurance helped bring his family, inspired his role in the video series.

Life insurance benefits can leave a legacy for survivors, whether it’s helping provide basic financial security, pay for college, start a business or fulfill a dream. To learn more about life insurance and to view more inspiring stories, visit https://www.prudential.com/thedrisin.

0309347-00001-00

Read more

Shop for health care with these websites and apps

(BPT) – As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible.

This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable — laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.

More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: Nearly one-third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.

These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.

There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.

These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.

As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.

Read more

Changing weather patterns leave homeowners underinsured

(BPT) – The U.S. has experienced significant shifts in the frequency, severity and locations of natural disasters — including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires — during the past decade.

As a result, more than 800 emergency or disaster declarations were made in the U.S. from 2005–2015, according to FEMA data. The insured losses stemming from natural catastrophes such as these average $24 billion annually.

Homeowners face severe risks from these disasters, yet many have not connected the dots between these shifts and the impact on their home insurance needs. A recent survey commissioned by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that fewer than 22 percent of homeowners view weather patterns or disasters as an important factor when updating their homeowners insurance policy. Missing these links can be costly.

“Changing weather patterns can dramatically impact what insurance should be carried on a property,” says Mike Consedine, NAIC chief executive officer. “When homeowners don’t regularly review their policies, important gaps in coverage can be missed. You should re-evaluate your risk profile at least once a year to ensure your existing homeowners policy provides the protection you need.”

Despite Consedine’s recommendation, the survey revealed that 56 percent of homeowners have not reviewed their insurance policies in more than a year. Fourteen percent are unsure when — if ever — they last reviewed their policies.

If it’s been awhile since your last insurance review, there’s no better time than the present. When evaluating your policy, consider the following questions:

1. Am I now at risk? Are earthquakes, wildfires or other disasters now a threat in my state or region? If you live in Oklahoma, for example, the risk of earthquakes has significantly increased in the last decade. Do I need flood insurance? Some incidents such as floods are not covered by a typical homeowners policy, so you’ll need additional coverage.

2. What has changed in my home? If you’ve moved in with your significant other or an adult child has returned home, consider the impact their belongings will have on your coverage. Create a home inventory and update it annually. The NAIC’s MyHome Scr.App.book app (available for iPhone and Android) lets you quickly capture images and descriptions of your possessions. Keep in mind personal items like jewelry, antiques and artwork may require special insurance coverage.

3. Do I save my receipts? Take photos or save receipts from major purchases and store them in a safe place away from your house or apartment. Quick access to these receipts will make filing a claim much easier.

4. What home improvements have I made? Renovations and additions can change the value of your home. Make sure your homeowners insurance policy reflects your home’s current value. Some security or smart home features may qualify you for premium discounts.

5. How can I learn more about being prepared? Get educated about your insurance options now to avoid surprises later. Insure U’s new Disaster Prep Guides can help determine the best course of action before, during and after a disaster strikes. The guides include information and tips for tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires.

For unbiased information and resources to help you rethink insurance, visit insureuonline.org. For insurance information specific to where you live, contact your state insurance commissioner.

Read more
Family moving due to flood

Flood insurance: Does your excuse hold water?

(BPT) – We know the old saying: when it rains, it pours… and when it pours, it floods. With winter snow storms coming to an end, the threat of flooding increases as the snow begins to melt and the rivers and creeks begin to swell. It’s easy to forget about how powerfully destructive water can be. In fact, nine out of 10 natural disasters include flood, making it the number one disaster in the United States according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, only 15 percent of homeowners have flood insurance. From 2006 to 2015, total flood claims cost more than $1.9 billion per year and the average claim was more than $46,000 during that time.

“Even just a few inches of water can cause thousands of dollars in property damage,” says Corise Morrison, executive director of underwriting at USAA. “While it’s possible to mitigate flood damage, complete prevention is nearly impossible. If you don’t take the proper precautions, it can be devastating to your family finances.”

For most homeowners, that means looking into flood insurance. But does it make sense for everyone? As an insurance professional, Morrison has heard all the explanations. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about flood insurance:

“Flood is covered by my homeowners insurance policy.”

Typically, flooding is not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. Therefore, homeowners must purchase a separate policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from their insurer. If the homeowner does have flood insurance, it’s important to regularly reevaluate it to ensure it provides adequate coverage.

“Flood insurance is too expensive.”

To emphasize an earlier point, the average cost of a flood claim hovered around $46,000 from 2011 to 2015. The average annual premium for flood insurance in the U.S. is $650, according to NFIP. Do the math.

“I don’t live in a flood plain so I don’t need flood insurance.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency found that as many as 20 percent of flood claims come from moderate-to-low risk areas. These are areas in which lenders don’t require the purchase of flood insurance. However, “less likely” doesn’t equal “no risk.” Complete this quick self-survey: “Does it rain where I am?” If the answer is yes, consider flood insurance because it can flood anywhere it rains.

“Flood insurance won’t provide me with the coverage I need anyway.”

It is true that the NFIP limits coverage of a single residence to $250,000 for the structure and another $100,000 for contents to the home, but they aren’t the only source for coverage. Excess flood coverage can also be purchased above the $250,000 limit.

“I’ll just wait until it rains.”

Sorry to break this to you, but most insurers require a 30-day waiting period before a policy is effective. Unless your own forecasts rival the best science and technology have to offer, it might be wise to stick to the mantra, “better safe than sorry.”

The consequences for being ill prepared for a flood can be long lasting. Research and carefully weigh the risk to you and your property. Chances are that you’ll find that it might be more reasonable than you thought. Visit USAA.com/flood for more tips and information on flood insurance and what to do before, during and after flooding occurs. You can also visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center for more information or to determine your flood risk.

Read more