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Ted Butler sitting on a bench outside the Donhowe Building.

Ted Butler works with the finances of U medical and dental plans. Both he and Kathy Pouliot recommend considering a flexible spending account.

The key word is choice

Health benefits open enrollment runs through Nov. 30

By Betty Gilchrist

Brief, Nov. 1, 2006

It's that time of the year again...the chance to consider a change to your benefits. Since the U's medical and dental plans are the same as last year, online enrollment isn't required. But it's a good time to figure out how well your plan meets your needs.

You may decide to call Employee Benefits with questions. And there's a good chance the benefits specialist on the other end of the phone line is thinking about the same issues that you are, because it's their open enrollment, too.

Ted Butler and Kathy Pouliot are two of the many Employee Benefits staff members who are very knowledgeable about benefits. They agreed to share their thoughts on deciding what to do this year during open enrollment.

Not making changes?

Then there's no need to go online--unless you want a flexible spending account for 2007. Current health care and dependent care flexible spending accounts will end on Dec. 31, and you need to enroll each year to have the account for the next calendar year.

Not sure who is an eligible dependent?

In general, the plans cover your legal spouse or registered same-sex domestic partner and children up to age 19 or up to age 25 if your child is a full-time student.

If you have someone on your plan who is not eligible, this is the time to remove the person without penalty.

Detailed information about eligibility can be found in the Summary of Benefits.

Employee Benefits Service Center
800-756-2363, option 2
Office hours 8 a.m.-4 p.m.,
Monday through Friday

Butler works with the finances of the medical and dental plans. That includes analyzing the impact of changes to the plans and coordinating the process of setting rates.

Pouliot manages the benefits services team, the group that answers your calls and e-mail messages. Her additional work with the plan administrators to implement changes gives her a thorough understanding of plan operations.

When choosing medical and dental plans, Butler used to look at rates first and then the provider network.

"That's changed a little bit now that I have my son covered on my medical plan," he says. "I take into account which pediatrician he sees and what networks that doctor is in. I'm more comfortable switching my own doctor because it's more important to my family to have my son stay with his doctor long-term."

This year, Butler has decided to change to the Medica Direct HSA plan. His wife has good coverage with her employer, so Ted and his son will move to the new option.

"While the high deductible could cause us to have more out-of-pocket costs, my son and I have relatively few medical problems," Butler says. "And, with 100 percent coverage for preventive care, the long-term savings potential of the health savings account makes it worth the chance."

Pouliot first reviews how the previous year worked for her to see if anything needs to change. Then she quickly looks at her husband's plan materials, because his company gives all of 24 hours for open enrollment.

"Normally, it's a quick decision," says Pouliot. "The UPlan coverage is lower in cost and has significantly lower office and pharmacy copays, no deductible or coinsurance for network providers, and an out-of-pocket maximum on pharmacy copays."

Pouliot found that the time spent last year researching the U's new options was well worth it. She is very satisfied with the decision to take a plan that provides open access to a wide variety of providers with no referrals.

Next, Pouliot checks that her family members' providers are still listed in her current plan. Then she decides what amount to put in a health care flexible spending account.

Butler and Pouliot both highly recommend considering enrollment in a health care flexible spending account if you expect to have at least $100 in out-of-pocket costs in 2007.

"I have participated in the health care account for almost 10 years," says Pouliot. "Once you begin tracking the amount spent for office visits and drug copays, eyeglasses and contacts, and over-the-counter medications, it adds up to quite a bit of money. If that amount is put into a flexible spending account, you won't pay taxes on it."

Pouliot and Butler also suggest steps for you to consider this open enrollment. Pouliot recommends that you consider your options early, read the materials, call the benefits service center if you have questions, and--if you decide to make changes--go online early to submit them. You can always go back and make changes before the end of open enrollment. She also said this is the time to think about whether you need the income replacement that long term insurance coverage offers.

Butler advises that you consider how much medical and dental care you tend to use and how important it is to see specific providers. Then check the directories and Web sites or call member services at the plans to find out which plans cover your providers. And, if you just need to change your primary care clinic, not your plan, call the member services number on your ID card directly to do that.

Betty Gilchrist is a senior communications project manager in the Office of Human Resources, Twin Cities campus.