The end of the year is full of activities. Family, school, and work obligations can keep you running constantly, without the time to consider other important things – such as whether you have used all of the health care and dental plan benefits covered by your insurance.
Are insurance concerns not high on your holiday list? They probably aren’t, but you could be wasting money by not reviewing your insurance usage before the holiday madness starts in earnest.
Deductibles – As you approach the end of the year, consider how close you are to your deductible since they reset at the end of each year. If you have met your deductible already, you have every incentive to take full advantage of all health care needs before the deductible resets.
Annual Maximums – Dental plans in particular may have a maximum coverage amount. If you expect to need upcoming work such as fillings, root canals, or crowns, and you have the available funds in your plan, get them taken care of before the plan resets for the New Year. If you wait until the beginning of the new year you can get the same work done, but you will have used up most of your coverage for the year already. If you need follow-up work or a second major procedure, you may be on the hook for expenses. Besides, putting off necessary dental work usually keeps you in pain for a longer time, and it has a chance of making the eventual work more complicated and expensive (and potentially life-threatening in case of infection).
Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Balances – If your health insurance plan is an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), your account balance is funded with pre-tax dollars to cover your health care costs. The use of pre-tax dollars allows you to save money on your taxes by reducing taxable income. However, the downside of an FSA is that you must use the benefits during the year. Benefits do not carry over; you will lose any unused money in the FSA account at the end of the year. Check the restrictions in your FSA to find out what the money can and cannot be used for, and plan your expenses far enough in advance so you are able to get a necessary appointment before year’s end. Some FSA plan administrators allow a grace period (usually two and a-half months) to use up your yearly expenses. If you still have a significant balance as you approach the deadline, check the details of your plan and understand well in advance what acceptable uses for your FSA funds are.
Plan Changes – Given the turbulence in health care plans, the benefits you receive in the next year may be different from the ones you received this year. There is no guarantee that dental plans will remain constant from year to year, either. Do not leave any critical benefits on the table in hopes that they will increase next year. How often does that happen?
There is one final reason you may need to use up your health insurance and dental benefits before the end of the year – if you have not been to the doctor or dentist at all. Failing to be pre-emptive with your health is the same as failing to be pre-emptive with your finances. Nothing good ever happens in that case.
In short, take care of yourself and use all the health care and dental benefits available to you. That is just plain common sense.