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Consider a side of insurance with your health insurance

October 23, 2019
FILE- In this Feb. 9, 2018, file photo, a nurse hooks up an IV to a flu patient at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Ga. Health insurance costs have climbed so high, there’s insurance for it. More employers are offering their workers supplemental coverage for expenses that crop up when an unexpected illness or injury hits.. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
FILE- In this Feb. 9, 2018, file photo, a nurse hooks up an IV to a flu patient at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Ga. Health insurance costs have climbed so high, there’s insurance for it. More employers are offering their workers supplemental coverage for expenses that crop up when an unexpected illness or injury hits.. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Health insurance costs have climbed so high, there’s insurance for it.

More employers are offering their workers supplemental coverage for expenses that crop up when an unexpected illness or injury hits.

These additional policies can help make up for lost wages due to disability leave and pay bills that regular health insurance doesn’t cover. They’re often available in the fall open enrollment window that many companies provide for benefit changes.

Whether an employee should consider one of these plans can depend on their regular insurance, medical history and financial health. Here’s a closer look.

THE COVERAGE

Plans that cover serious illnesses, accidents and hospital stays are the most common forms of supplemental coverage.

They can be purchased separately, but some insurers also are starting to offer plans that include all three, said Brian Russell, a supplemental benefits expert with the consultant Mercer.

About two-thirds of medium-size or big companies offered accident coverage this year, according to Mercer. Nearly 60% provided coverage for a serious illness or condition like cancer or a stroke.

These plans, which also can be found in the individual insurance market, don’t replace health coverage. They generally provide a lump sum payout if someone winds up staying in a hospital, visiting an emergency room or being diagnosed with a serious condition.

That money often can be used to pay for things like utilities or child care expenses, not just doctor bills.

Employers have started offering this coverage more as they’ve raised the deductibles on their medical plans. High-deductible plans cost less, so they take a smaller bite out of a worker’s paycheck.

But those deductibles also can expose patients to thousands of dollars in medical bills before most coverage begins.

WEIGHING OPTIONS

These policies can cost $50 a month or less depending on how broad the plan is and who is covered. But they deserve careful consideration before making that first payment.

Start with the plan details. Employees should understand what gets covered, and they should take into account their medical history.

A critical illness plan, for instance, may not cover a chronic condition like diabetes. It also may not cover a cancer that has come back or might have a waiting period before it does.

Employees also should consider their savings account balances and the financial exposure they would have to a big medical bill from their health plan.

“For someone who doesn’t have a lot of cash in the bank or they haven’t set up their (health savings) account, this might be enticing to them,” said Susan Rider, an Indianapolis-based benefits consultant.

Accident coverage, which would help with an emergency room bill, may be appealing for a family with young children. A middle-age employee who has built up retirement savings might be interested in critical illness coverage that would protect her from being ruined financially by a cancer diagnosis.

Some employees also may want to avoid paying another insurance bill and instead invest their money in a health savings account, which provides unique tax breaks if the money is used for a medical expense.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Employees also should review the rest of their coverage during their company’s open enrollment window. That’s generally the one time each year when people can make changes unless they get a new job or go through a big change like the birth of a child.

Aside from health and dental coverage, employees should consider all the benefits their company offers and review life insurance needs and retirement planning, Mercer’s Tracy Watts said.

It’s also worthwhile to think about any planned medical spending in the coming year for things like dental braces or knee surgery and whether money should be set aside in a flexible spending account.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy