Walmart And UnitedHealth Group Launch Medicare Advantage Partnership

Walmart and UnitedHealth Group are beginning a major 10-year collaboration to provide healthcare ... [+] Walmart

Walmart and UnitedHealth Group are rolling out a major partnership to provide healthcare services and “improve the patient experience” for Medicare Advantage enrollees in certain markets across the country.

The 10-year collaboration announced Wednesday between the retail giant’s fast-growing Walmart Health business and UnitedHealth’s Optum health services will begin in 2023 in Florida and Georgia where Walmart Health has a combined 15 locations. Eventually, the collaboration will be expanded across the U.S., serving Medicare Advantage health plan enrollees no matter which health plan seniors choose.

“This is Walmart being able to be provide care to all seniors 65 plus and for everyone who is eligible in Medicare Advantage plans,” Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of Walmart Health & Wellness said in an interview. “No matter who your insurer is, this 10-year collaboration is going to enable us to deliver the care needed, first in Georgia and Florida.”

Medicare Advantage plans contract with the federal government to provide extra benefits and services to seniors, such as disease management and nurse help hotlines with some also offering vision, dental care and wellness programs. And in recent years, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has allowed Medicare Advantage plans to cover more supplemental benefits, adding to their popularity among seniors.

Across the country, health insurers have escalated expansions into new areas, pushing Medicare Advantage enrollment to record highs. Medicare Advantage plans added more than 2 million beneficiaries for this 2022 coverage year, boosting the program to 45% of all Medicare enrollment, according to a study earlier this year by The Chartis Group.

Over time, the collaboration could mean hundreds of thousands of new customers for both Walmart and UnitedHealth Group, which is already the biggest provider of Medicare Advantage coverage via its UnitedHealthcare health insurance business. UnitedHealthcare is the nation’s largest health insurer and includes 7 million Medicare Advantage enrollees.

“We’re on a journey to transform health care, connecting more people to the right care at the right time — at a cost that makes sense,” Walmart chief executive officer Doug McMillon said in a statement. “This collaboration puts the patient at the center of health care by leveraging the strength and complementary skill sets of our two companies to accelerate access to quality care.”

UnitedHealth chief strategy and growth officer Dan Schumacher said Optum’s role in the collaboration will be to help Walmart clinicians through Optum’s vast data and related analytics designed to improve patient outcomes. The Optum unit of UnitedHealth Group owns and operates hundreds of doctor practices, outpatient clinics, surgery centers and group practices as well as an analytics operation that uses data from its health plans and providers to improve care and outcomes.

Walmart Health facilities feature an array of primary medical services, urgent care including X-ray services, dental and eye care, and behavioral health services as part of a new model being replicated in several markets across the U.S.

The collaboration is expected to grow over time and spread to other markets across the country, which could mean a huge influx of seniors into Walmart Health locations and potentially more subscribers to UnitedHealth Group’s Medicare Advantage plans. The collaboration will also be working on new health plans created by UnitedHealth and Walmart.

Beginning in January, the collaboration will include a co-branded Medicare Advantage plan in Georgia called “UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage Walmart Flex.” Also in January, Walmart Health Virtual Care will be “in network for commercial members in UnitedHealthcare’s Choice Plus PPO plan, giving consumers another option to access care when and where they want it,” the companies said Wednesday.

“UnitedHealth Group and Walmart share a deep commitment to high-quality and affordable primary care led services that address all of a patient’s health needs in ways that are convenient for them and improve health outcomes,” said Andrew Witty, chief executive officer, UnitedHealth Group.

I’ve written about health care for three decades, starting from my native Iowa where I covered the presidential campaign bus rides of Bill and Hillary

Source: Walmart And UnitedHealth Group Launch Medicare Advantage Partnership

Critics by

Walmart’s clinics could get a boost of new customers from UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage members, while UnitedHealth gains access to the largest U.S. retailer’s footprint and a venue to enroll more people, Evercore ISI analysts Mike Newshel and Elizabeth Anderson said in a research note. Walgreens last October invested $5.2 billion in primary-care provider VillageMD, which has more than 200 locations across 15 markets.

Walmart’s effort with UnitedHealth will target common ailments among aging Americans such as heart disease and diabetes. When it gets under way in January, the collaboration is expected to initially offer seniors healthcare at 15 Walmart Health locations in Georgia and Florida. The focus will be on value-based healthcare, a model in which hospitals and doctors’ offices are reimbursed for the care they provide through multiple Medicare Advantage plans.

Walmart already provides physicians, community-health workers, behavioral-health therapists and nurse practitioners to help serve seniors who are “already going to buy other products” at Walmart’s health facilities, she said. Walmart’s healthcare personnel will be able to use Optum, a health services company owned by UnitedHealth Group, which gives providers data analytics on patients. The collaboration also includes the expected launch of a Walmart and UnitedHealth Group co-branded Medicare Advantage plan in Georgia.

Walmart and UnitedHealth Group had partnered in January to provide free, at-home COVID-19 tests.

Medicare Advantage is leading the innovative use of value-based care — delivering better health outcomes, through better quality care at a better cost for Medicare beneficiaries.

  • Medicare Advantage is the public-private partnership in Medicare where 27 million seniors and Americans with disabilities receive coverage today.
  • 98 percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries report that they are satisfied with their health coverage, and 97 percent report satisfaction with their network of physicians, hospitals, and specialists.
  • Medicare Advantage enrollees report nearly $1,600 in savings compared to beneficiaries in Traditional Medicare.
  • Medicare Advantage’s population is increasingly diverse. 31.5% percent of beneficiaries are minorities, compared to 20.8% percent in Traditional Medicare.
  • Medicare Advantage beneficiaries experience more preventive care and screenings and lower rates of avoidable hospitalizations compared to those enrolled in Traditional Medicare.
  • Unlike Traditional Medicare, for which an individual pays a separate monthly premium for hospital visits, doctors/outpatient, and prescription drugs, Medicare Advantage typically covers all in one monthly premium, often with extra benefits at a lower cost to the enrollee.

Related contents:

What does CVS’s new deal signify about Medicare Advantage? The Health Care Blog

Letters: Enough with the Medicare calls. Require retention pond fences Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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7 Surprisingly Easy Ways To Reach Retirement Goals

It’s never too early, or too late, to start thinking about your retirement goals. No matter if you’re hoping to retire early or work until you can’t any longer, having a plan for how you can retire comfortably is essential.

Get started on these steps right now so you can reach your retirement goals.

1. Have A Professional Review Your Plan

If you’re fortunate enough to have plenty of retirement savings and investments, now is the time to futureproof your funds. But that takes time and skills that most don’t have, so the best option is to turn to a professional financial advisor. The hard part is finding the right one.

WiserAdvisor does all that work for you, matching you to the best financial advisor for your specific situation so you get in an expert in the areas you need.

There’s no cost to you and no obligation to hire the advisor, so there’s not much to lose.

2. Keep An Emergency Fund

Common wisdom suggests you should keep three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund. Once you retire, however, you’ll likely want to bump up that amount. Generally speaking, accidents occur more often as you age, whether through accidental falls, reduction in driving abilities, loss of general dexterity or simply through spending more time at home rather than in an office. The best way to plan for emergency expenses in retirement is to build up your nest egg while you’re working, rather than making it a monthly line item in your budget.

Sign up for a new SoFi Checking and Savings Account today so that you can start stashing cash. You can earn a cash bonus of up to $300 with direct deposit and you can get up to 2.00% APY (Annual Percentage Yield) on all checking and savings balances with no balance cap restrictions*.

Plus, there are overdraft fees, no minimum balance fees and no monthly fees. You can even get paid up to two days early when you set up direct deposit.

3. Think Outside Your 401(k)

A 401(k) retirement plan is an excellent way to save for retirement, but it does have limited investment options, so you may also want another account with more investment flexibility.

And no matter what your retirement goals look like, working with companies that understand how to invest will help you.

Vanguard’s Digital Advisor is professional money management at a low cost. They can help you invest your retirement savings so you can focus on other things. With a minimum enrollment amount of $3,000 and a cost of no more than $2 a year for every $1,000 you invest, Digital Advisor provides ongoing, automated investment management at a low cost.

With no advisory fees for the first 90 days of your enrollment, there’s no better time to get started.

4. Diversify To Mitigate Risk

With a sinking economy and rising inflation, it’s important to diversify so all your investment eggs aren’t in one basket. Gold is traditionally a popular investment during a recession because it’s negatively correlated with the stock market.

Goldco offers both precious metals IRAs and direct purchases of gold and silver. It’s a top-rated company and is now offering $10,000 or more in free silver with qualified accounts.

5. Invest Creatively

A strong way to diversify your investment may surprise you: Art. With a 13.8% return, art handily outperformed the S&P from 1995 to 2021.

Masterworks allows everyday investors to own shares of iconic works of art by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Banksy, Andy Warhol and more.

You can get paid when the painting sells or sell your shares on the secondary market, providing more liquidity than would typically be available when investing in art directly.

6. Generate Passive Income

Passive income plays a key role in many successful retirement strategies. Here’s one that’s about as effortless as it gets. You can rent out all types of extra space around your house – garage, shed, basement, driveway, closet and more – to people who need to store their stuff. And you can make hundreds of dollars a month doing it.

Neighbor is a website that lets you list your extra storage space for rent and connects you with potential renters. It’s free to post a listing, and you won’t need to write up a contract or collect payments – Neighbor handles all that stuff. However, you are in control of where you should be: You review renters’ requests so that you know exactly what they plan to store before you decide whether to approve the deal. Plus, you set the move-in date that’s convenient for you.

You’ll also be protected with up to $1 million in liability insurance, and Neighbor will cover the cost if a renter doesn’t pay.

Turn your empty space into passive income.

7. Become A Landlord

Rental real estate is popular as an additional, passive income for the long haul. Unlike investing in stocks, real estate is somewhat shielded from the constant ups and downs of the market and has offered a return of up to 6% over time, which makes it a smart way to diversify your portfolio.

Arrived is your gateway to the world of real estate investing that’s historically required lots of upfront capital. With a minimum investment of just $100, Arrived makes real estate investing truly accessible to everyone.

It’s simple to get started: Create an account, decide how much you want to invest and watch for property appreciation and quarterly rental income payments.

Investing in real estate is a great option for anyone looking to build long-term wealth that can stand up to risk and market volatility.

By: Adam McFadden

Source: 7 Surprisingly Easy Ways To Reach Retirement Goals | GOBankingRates

Related contents:

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The Single Most Important Thing to Know About Financial Aid: It’s a Sham

 

In early March, a 17-year-old high school senior I’ll call Ethan got a text message from Ursinus College, a small, private liberal arts school located about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. It said, “Great news, [Ethan]! Ursinus College has awarded you additional money! Log into your portal to view your updated financial aid award.”

A few days later, Ethan got a letter from Ursinus repeating the same offer. “The Office of Student Financial Aid recently received additional information regarding your application for financial aid and, as a result, a change has been made to your original award,” it said. In December, Ursinus had offered Ethan a “Gateway Scholarship” of $35,000 to offset the college’s listed price of more than $72,000 for tuition, room, and board. Now it had added a “Grizzly Grant” (Ursinus’ mascot is a bear) of $3,500 to the mix.

It was puzzling. Ethan is not financially needy. One of his parents is a nonprofit executive and the other is a public school teacher in suburban Maryland. They own their home outright and earn well over $200,000 per year, putting them comfortably in the top 10 percent of household income nationwide. Ethan’s standardized test scores were good and grades were fine, but mostly not in the kind of rigorous Advance Placement–type classes that are mandatory for admission to selective universities.

All of this was in the application he sent to Ursinus last year, and he hadn’t talked to them since. What “additional information” were they talking about? Meanwhile, Ethan has a cousin who is also a high school senior. I’ll call her Ashley. Her overall academic profile was better than Ethan’s—higher grades and lots of AP courses, somewhat lower SATs. But her economic circumstances were not.

Ashley also lives in Maryland. Her mother, a single parent, dropped out of community college and works in the back office of a local restaurant chain. Her income is well below the median for someone with college-age children, and she has no real financial assets to fall back on.

Yet Ashley wasn’t getting unsolicited text messages offering her more financial aid. Penn State, a public land-grant university that allegedly has a mission to provide broad access to college, had recently sent her a financial aid letter. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, their offer was this: nothing. Tuition, room, and board would be $49,200—almost $16,000 more than private Ursinus College wanted to charge her wealthier cousin. To pay, she was welcome to get a job, or take out loans.

Ethan and Ashley were learning a lesson about the way the business of higher education actually works in this country: College financial aid is largely an illusion. Government financial aid is real, if inadequate—federal Pell grants and state appropriations to reduce tuition at public universities definitely exist. But the financial aid purportedly provided by colleges themselves is mostly fiction.

The whole public-facing system of college admissions—in which admissions decisions are based on rigorous academic standards and financial aid is supposedly provided to those who are most academically and financially deserving—is an elaborate stage play meant to flatter privileged families and the reputations of colleges themselves. The real system, hidden behind the scenery, is much closer to the mechanics of pure capitalism, driven by an industry of for-profit consultants and relentlessly focused on the institutional bottom line.

That’s a huge problem for students and parents trying to make expensive, life-changing choices about higher education. Many families make bad decisions based on the misleading vocabulary colleges use around financial aid, leading to broken futures and, increasingly, unaffordable student loans. If you have children and are planning to help them go to college anytime soon, understand this: Much of what colleges are going to tell you about money isn’t true.

There are, to be sure, a few extremely wealthy institutions that really do provide financial aid. If you are among the small number of low-income students that Harvard chooses to admit after filling much of its class with legacies, athletes, and the children of wealth, status, and power, you won’t have to pay tuition. The Ivies and a handful of other elite schools have “need blind” admissions, which means they consider your application regardless of your financial circumstances, and offer generous aid to those who need it.

Parents can also find good, reasonably priced public options in some states, which allow them to avoid the shell games involving financial aid. Public universities in North Carolina remain very affordable, for instance. And some states also provide grants to students that are in fact based on their financial needs or academic achievements.

Tuition and fees for the State University of New York system are relatively low to begin with, roughly $8,000 to $10,000 for in-state students. But the state of New York also runs a state need-based scholarship program that, combined with a federal Pell grant, can be enough to cover tuition and part of room and board.

But if you live in a less generous part of the country and your kids are applying out-of-state, or they have their sights set on a private college without an Ivy League endowment, then you have wandered into a very different kind of market, one that has a lot more in common with airlines hawking seats or dealers selling cars than you might realize.

The language of admissions and financial aid suggests that colleges review every application with two questions in mind: “Does this applicant meet our academic standards? If so, how much scholarship aid, given their financial circumstances and academic merit, do they deserve?”

In reality, the large majority of undergraduates attend a college that accepts most or all applicants. And while the “sticker price” for tuition at some institutions exceeds $50,000, most colleges don’t have enough market power to charge anything close to that. For them, the real concerns are, “How likely is this applicant to enroll, if we accept them? And what’s the most amount of money they’d be willing to pay?”

To answer those questions, many colleges hire expensive consulting firms to help them manage a complex process of marketing, admissions, and pricing. The firms design social media campaigns and produce the flood of glossy brochures that pours through the U.S. postal system every year.

They take the wealth of detailed financial information that parents are required to disclose on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and feed it into the same kinds of complex algorithms that airlines use to constantly change the price of seats in the months, weeks, and days before a flight.

They also use a probabilistic strategy for deciding whom to admit, based on a combination of how much they think parents are willing to pay and how likely students are to enroll. Because of online systems like the Common App, it’s easy for students to apply to many colleges. At less desired colleges—the safety schools and fourth choices—“yield” rates, meaning the percentage of admitted students who enroll, are often below 20 percent.

So they admit 3,000 students to fill a freshman class of 600 and hope that past statistical patterns hold. If too many students enroll, there’s no room in the dorms. Too few, and the college goes broke. The whole process is called “enrollment management.” To understand how important enrollment management is in the higher education industry, look to administrative hierarchy:

Ursinus College, for example, has a director of admissions who reports to a vice president and dean of enrollment management and marketing. When Washington College mailed Ethan three “VIP admission” tickets and an all-access lanyard with his name printed on it for an “Admitted Students Day Music Festival” in April, it was trying to increase its yield.

When one college after another sent Ethan a letter offering him tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, in most cases it probably had nothing to do with their evaluation of Ethan’s achievements. It was more likely because market research told them that students like the feeling of being awarded something, and the enrollment management algorithm suggested that full tuition minus $25,000 or $30,000 was a price his parents might be willing to pay.

The Ursinus College Office of Student Financial Services did not receive any additional information regarding Ethan’s application. That was a fib. An Ursinus spokesman confirmed for me that the extra award was based on his original application and “other financial considerations.”

It would not be surprising if those “other financial considerations” included a report from an enrollment management consultant—the firms Ruffalo Noel Levitz and EAB are two of the biggest—showing that acceptance and pricing projections as of early March were looking soft. When colleges find their enrollment numbers lagging, they act like a car dealer with too many of last year’s models on the lot, and put tuition on sale.

Like most colleges, Ursinus’ $72,000 list price is an imaginary number; on average, it charges students only about one-third of that. It is not providing Gateway Scholarships and Grizzly Grants from a pot of actual money. It’s just pretending to, because that’s what students and parents like to hear.

Colleges, unsurprisingly, are shy to discuss the consultants that shape the inner workings of their aid process, and will resort to linguistic contortions when asked about it. When I asked Ursinus whether it awarded its “Grizzly Grants” based on a report from an enrollment management consultant, a spokesman responded that it works “in partnership with a financial aid leveraging firm” and that “we monitor the progress of the first-year class on a routine basis throughout the enrollment cycle.”

A spokesman from Clark University, which tried to entice Ethan with a “$68,000 Robert Goddard Achievement Scholarship,” told me that the school “does not rely on an enrollment management consultant.” Instead, they said, it “occasionally” hires “outside analytical support” that does “not tell us how much aid to offer any student or group of students” but does “crunch large volumes of data in a timely manner that we then use to assess our progress toward our enrollment goals and estimate/project our total aid expenditure through that enrollment cycle.”

So, not an enrollment management consultant. Just, you know, a consultant that helps them manage enrollment. But while schools may not love talking about it, nothing about this system is a secret within higher education. For instance, after taking a job in the enrollment management industry, former Ursinus vice president for enrollment Richard DiFeliciantonio wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed in which he explained that the “financial aid matrix” colleges rely on is essentially “the same pricing technique taught to M.B.A.s and commonly used by corporations for commercial products.”

He noted that the formula considers a student’s academic achievement mostly as a “proxy” for their willingness to pay for college (as opposed to a measure of merit). This is also why, despite her financial need and solid high school achievement, Ethan’s cousin Ashley was not being inundated with texts and letters offering her more money. As DiFeliciantonio wrote: “Wealthy families are more able and less willing to pay for college while the poorer families are more willing and less able.”

In other words, parents of means who themselves have finished college are often sophisticated consumers of higher education and are able to drive a hard bargain, whereas lower-income, less-educated parents feel an enormous obligation to help their children move farther up the socioeconomic ladder and blindly trust that colleges have their best financial interests at heart. So colleges obey the algorithm and offer more financial aid to the Ethans than to the Ashleys, one of many problems identified in a recent Brookings Institution report.

Ashley submitted financial aid forms with information about her family’s modest income because everyone and everything about the process told her college aid is based on how much money you need, or deserve. She had no idea that information could be used against her. In May, New York University offered her admission if she would agree to delay enrollment until spring 2023—when, maybe not coincidentally, her good-but-not-stellar academic record would not count in the rankings data NYU submits to U.S. News & World Report.

Their price? $79,070. Their aid offer? $0, take it or leave it, with 96 hours to respond. Federal statute limits how much the Department of Education can lend to undergraduates. Freshmen can only borrow $5,500. But there is no limit on how much the department can lend to parents through a program called Parent PLUS. Nor does the department check to see if parents have the means to pay PLUS loans back.

So NYU “offered” Ashley the opportunity to borrow $5,500 and take a $1,500 work-study job. Then it offered Ashley’s mother the chance to take out a $72,099 Parent PLUS loan—more than her gross annual salary, before taxes—for the first of four undergraduate years.

Fortunately for Ashley and her mother, they knew someone who offered sensible financial advice. They turned down NYU and its offer of gargantuan loans and chose a less expensive public university. But as the countless individual stories that compose the nation’s $1.7 trillion student loan crisis show, many families make different choices. They are drawn in by a combination of optimism, blind faith, and familial obligation, and end up with debts they cannot repay. Colleges know this will happen.

Colleges do this because they want and need money. The business of filling up a class has gotten more difficult as the number of new high school graduates continues to recede from the peak millennial years, with further declines expected starting in 2025. Small, private colleges are especially vulnerable, and some have gone bankrupt in recent years.

Understanding the true nature of the college market should reduce some kinds of student stress. If you’re a high school graduate in reasonable academic standing, there are scores of good colleges ready to admit you. The real market tuition price in the big middle of the higher education sector is probably about $25,000, not the $50,000 or $60,000 you might have heard. Applying to college there isn’t like being vetted to join an exclusive social club. Nobody is really judging your worthiness for financial aid. College is just another service with a price.

The words colleges use in the admissions process, embedded in the broader portrayal of higher education in popular culture, tell a different tale, leaving first-generation students with the least money and social capital most vulnerable to exploitation. Colleges are full of great educators who want to help you learn. But when it comes to money, you’re on your own.

By Kevin Carey

Source: College financial aid: It’s a sham that depends on what colleges think families will pay.

Related contents:

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How To Choose The Right Employee Benefits For 2022 During Open Enrollment

For employees, it’s not pumpkin spice season right now, it’s Open Enrollment season. That means it’s time to make the health and retirement plan choices that will be right for you in 2022.

It isn’t easy, and many workers feel uneasy about choosing wisely. In its 2021 State of Work in America survey of 1,500 U.S. employees, the professional services firm Grant Thornton found that 36% of workers weren’t confident they’d chosen the best medical plan. And 80% of employees surveyed by Lincoln Financial said they wish they better understood some aspect of their retirement plan.

Employees can expect to see rising out-of-pocket health costs through their employer coverage in 2022, including premium increases of 4% to 5%. Some higher-paid workers will be asked to pay more for their health insurance than lower-paid workers. Roughly a third of employers surveyed by the benefits consulting firm Willis Towers WLTW +0.1% said they’d consider narrowing the network of doctors and other health care providers available to patients.

But you may be in for a few pleasant surprises.

“As employers continue to compete for talent, many are adding a number of new benefits to their lineup for next year including resources and additional paid leave for caregivers, surgery Centers of Excellence [more on this below], financial planning and expanded mental health benefits, virtual physical therapy and other digital health programs,” says Erin Tatar, senior vice president of workplace consulting at Fidelity Investments.

Some employers have added an emergency savings account option through payroll deductions, too. About 23% of employees are currently offered one, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Tatar’s advice: “Take time to attend virtual benefits fairs to review the growing list of health, wealth and other benefits from your employer this fall.”

Getting the Right Health Coverage

For many older workers, access to affordable health care coverage is the No. 1 employee benefit they seek. Before you enroll in a health plan for 2022, ask yourself: How much did I pay in premiums this year? How many trips to the doctor, hospital or emergency room did members of my household make? What else did we spend out-of-pocket for health care in 2021?

Then, start comparing the features and prices of your options, since they can vary significantly. Compare the benefits, rules, restrictions and costs such as co-pays, annual deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. You may well need to deal with Alphabet City, deciding among a high deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account or HSA (an HSA lets you save money in a tax-advantaged account and then withdraw cash tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses), a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan and a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan.

Don’t assume that whatever health plan and benefits you had in 2021 will be the best for you in 2022. Your plan may have changed. Your circumstances may have changed; for example, if your last son or daughter is now in college, it might make sense to buy a university plan for that child while you and your spouse change from family coverage to “employee + 1” coverage.

And don’t miss out on the panoply of health benefits in your plan choices, especially new benefits that can save you money.

“An often-overlooked benefit for older workers is a surgery Centers of Excellence program,” says Tatar. Here, if you are planning to have surgery — such as spine, knee, hip or bariatric surgery — the company will arrange for you to receive care from a Center of Excellence to receive top notch and affordable treatment.

“They will often provide more generous benefits coverage for patients who participate and will cover any upfront travel costs for you and a companion if the best care is outside your community,” Tatar notes.

If you’re in good health, says Seth Mullikin of Lattice Financial in Charlotte, N.C, “an HSA (with a high deductible plan) generally makes sense. From a financial planning perspective, it gets better if you can fund these costs from personal savings and let your HSA money grow tax-free over time.”

The HSA also lets you pay for health expenses in the future, even into retirement, adds Mullikin. In 2022, employees with high-deductible health plans will generally be allowed to contribute up to $3,650 in an HSA; as much as $7,300 for family coverage.

Time for a Second Opinion?

You may also be able to sign up to get a second opinion as part of your health coverage. Some employers have even expanded eligibility to receive a second medical opinion for an employee’s parents and grandparents.

“As we get older, the risk of having a serious health event increases. If this happens to you, it’s natural to seek a second opinion. Some employers we are working with now want to give employees better peace of mind, so they offer ‘second opinion’ benefits,” notes Tatar. “Then they can provide an entire medical diagnosis and treatment plan as an option for you to discuss with your doctor. And it is usually covered one hundred percent.”

Mental Health Coverage

The pandemic and revelations by star athletes including tennis’ Naomi Osaka and gymnastics’ Simone Biles, has made taking care of our mental health a priority.

More than three-quarters of large employers surveyed by the nonprofit Business Group on Health say access to mental health care is now a top priority. In 2021, 62% of employers this group surveyed added mental health benefits.

To that end, check to see if your employer is incorporating resiliency and mindfulness training and mental health options such as telehealth counseling into its benefits offerings.

Disability Coverage

You may also want to look into getting disability insurance coverage through work.

“Your chance of being disabled is much greater than the risk of premature death,” says wealth adviser Graham Ewing of Financial Consulate in Hunt Valley, Md. “If your employer is offering disability insurance, consider it.”

But, he adds, “you need to understand how disability is being defined by the insurance company. For example, some policies will pay out benefits for only two years if you can’t do your current job. Others won’t pay beyond two years if you are not completely incapacitated. So, find out what’s covered and what’s not.”

Group disability coverage typically pays up to 60% of salary if you can’t keep working at your job or switch to another position and you expect to be disabled for a year or more.

Care Giving Benefits

If you are caring for an aging loved one or someone with a serious illness, inquire about work/life balance or employee assistance programs. Some companies are now offering caregiver navigation benefits which connect you with experts to help find local elder care resources or options for assisted living or nursing homes.

If you’re a caregiver, you’ll likely need some give and take with your schedule, so see what HR will do for you.

Says Tim Glowa, a principal and leader of Grant Thornton’s employee listening and human capital services offerings: “Everyone has a unique set of responsibilities outside of the office. As companies return to the office, it will be more crucial than ever to give people the time they need to take care of what’s important at home.”

Financial Wellness and Retirement Planning

Open Enrollment season may also be a good time to revisit your retirement plan and do a “financial check-up,” similar to getting an annual wellness physical from your doctor, says Ewing.

“You may want to revisit your risk tolerance, especially if you are concerned about gyrations in the stock market,” he adds.

Mullikin notes that many of his 50+ clients are worried about having enough money to retire comfortably. “So, our first order of business is to find out if they can increase, or max out, their 401(k) contributions,” he says.

Another way to save more for retirement when you’re over 50 is to make catch-up contributions to your retirement plan.

These let you put in up to $6,500 more than others can in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan or up to $1,000 in an Individual Retirement Account. “Plus, you and your spouse (if they are also enrolled) can make catch-up contributions of up to a thousand dollars to your HSA at age fifty-five,” notes Mullikin.

Reimbursing Your Remote Work Expenses

If you’ll be working remotely in 2022, even part of the time, check with your HR department about getting reimbursed for home office expenses like a standing desk, a Wi-Fi extender, a headset and any ergonomic equipment designed to keep you healthy and productive.

About a fifth of employers the benefits consulting firm Mercer surveyed said they’d be adding or enhancing reimbursement for off-site workers in 2021, including subsidizing ergonomic furniture.

Some firms pay for setups of $200 to $300. Others offer partial ongoing reimbursement for an employee’s home internet service and cell service.

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Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and…

Source: How To Choose The Right Employee Benefits For 2022 During Open Enrollment

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If You’re Still Working at 65, How To Avoid Costly Medicare Mistakes

Key Points
  • You could face lifelong late-enrollment penalties if you don’t sign up for Medicare when you’re supposed to.
  • The rules for enrollment when you already have insurance through your job depend partly on whether your employer is large or small.
  • It’s important to know that once you sign up for Medicare, even if only for Part A (hospital coverage), you can no longer contribute to a health savings account.

Workers who are nearing age 65 and have health insurance through their job may want to consider how Medicare could factor into their medical coverage.

While not everyone must sign up for Medicare at that age of eligibility, many are required to enroll — or otherwise face lifelong late-enrollment penalties.

“The biggest mistake … is to assume that you don’t need Medicare and to miss enrolling in it when you should have,” said Danielle Roberts, co-founder of insurance firm Boomer Benefits.

Roughly 10 million workers are in the 65-and-older crowd, or 17.9% of that age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The general rule for Medicare signup is that unless you meet an exception, you get a seven-month enrollment window that starts three months before your 65th birthday month and ends three months after it. Having qualifying insurance through your employer is one of those exceptions. Here’s what to know.

The basics

Original, or basic, Medicare consists of Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care coverage).

Part A has no premium as long as you have at least a 10-year work history of contributing to the program through payroll (or self-employment) taxes. Part B comes with a standard monthly premium of $148.50 for 2021, although higher-income beneficiaries pay more through monthly adjustments (see chart below).

Some 43% of individuals choose to get their Parts A and B benefits delivered through an Advantage Plan (Part C), which typically includes prescription drugs (Part D) and may or may not have a premium.

The remaining beneficiaries stick with basic Medicare and may pair it with a so-called Medigap policy and a stand-alone Part D plan. Be aware that higher-income beneficiaries pay more for drug coverage, as well (see chart below).

Remember that late-enrollment penalties last a lifetime. For Part B, that surcharge is 10% for each 12-month period you could have had it but didn’t sign up. For Part D, the penalty is 1% of the base premium ($33.06 in 2021) multiplied by the number of full, uncovered months you didn’t have Part D or creditable coverage.Working at a large company

The general rule for workers at companies with at least 20 employees is that you can delay signing up for Medicare until you lose your group insurance (i.e., you retire).

Many people with large group health insurance delay Part B but sign up for Part A because it’s free. “It doesn’t hurt you to have it,” Roberts said. However, she said, if you happen to have a health savings account paired with a high-deductible health plan through your employer, be aware that you cannot make contributions once you enroll in Medicare, even if only Part A.

Also, if you stay with your current coverage and delay all or parts of Medicare, make sure the plan is considered qualifying coverage for both Parts B and D. If you’re uncertain whether you need to sign up, it’s worth checking with your human resources department or your insurance carrier.

“I find it is always good to just confirm,” said Elizabeth Gavino, founder of Lewin & Gavino and an independent broker and general agent for Medicare plans. Some 65-year-olds with younger spouses also might want to keep their group plan. Unlike your company’s option, spouses must qualify on their own for Medicare — either by reaching age 65 or having a disability if younger than that — regardless of your own eligibility.If your employer is small

If you have health insurance through a company with fewer than 20 employees, you should sign up for Medicare at 65 regardless of whether you stay on the employer plan. If you do choose to remain on it, Medicare is your primary insurance. However, it may be more cost-effective in this situation to drop the employer coverage and pick up Medigap and a Part D plan — or, alternatively, an Advantage Plan — instead of keeping the work plan as secondary insurance.

Often, workers at small companies pay more in premiums than employees at larger firms. The average premium for single coverage through employer-sponsored health insurance is $7,470, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. However, employees contribute an average of $1,243 — or about 17% — with their company covering the remainder.

At small firms, the employee’s share might be far higher. For example, 28% are in a plan that requires them to contribute more than half of the premium for family coverage, compared with 4% of covered workers at large firms. Original Medicare consists of Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care coverage). Excluding limited exceptions, there is no coverage related to dental, vision or hearing, which can lead to beneficiaries forgoing care.

“It would be a significant improvement [to provide coverage] for people who often go without needed care because they can’t afford it and for people who pay a lot for the care they need,” said Tricia Neuman, executive director for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program on Medicare policy. Some beneficiaries get limited coverage for dental, vision and hearing if they choose to get their Parts A and B benefits delivered through an Advantage Plan (Part C), which often include those extras. About 40% of beneficiaries are enrolled in Advantage Plans.

However, Lipschutz said, the extra coverage generally is not comprehensive. On the other hand, if expanded benefits — no matter how generous — were required under original Medicare, they’d become standard in an Advantage Plan.

Source: If you’re still working at 65, how to avoid costly Medicare mistakes

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