10 Perks & Benefits That May Be Covered by Your Health Plan

Health insurance is commonly equated with headaches. From choosing the right plan to paying deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network expenses, accessibility and cost reduction remain top concerns for millions of Americans.

Members of Generation Y value health coverage almost as much as older adults, even though they’re less likely to need it. As many as 34 percent of millennials picked health care as the most significant benefit their employer can offer. This may reveal Generation Y’s greater interest in exploring a range of benefits to shield them from various risks, as opposed to older generations.

Regardless of generational differences, consumers tend to prioritize health care expenses over other purchases. Yet, most Americans aren’t familiar with the benefits included in their plans, especially since the health care reform. Many consumers argue there’s no point in buying luxury items if they’re too sick to appreciate them, causing them to dish out more cash on unknown and unused health benefits, than on things they enjoy.

Insurance premiums have shot up 213 percent since 1999. Economists predict insurance prices will continue to soar indefinitely, eating up more of your paycheck each year. With consistently rising health care costs, it’s important to understand your coverage to get the most out of your plan.

On account of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), several states have extended coverage beyond the minimum requirements. As a result, our healthcare may offer a lot more than just prescriptions drugs and hospitalizations.

Now, most plans entail oodles of progressive benefits, which have never been covered in the past. In this instance, what you don’t know about your coverage could hurt you. Since a growing number of health plans today cover alternative and complementary treatments, you may miss out on a host of effective services. Here are 10 surprising perks you may not realize your plan includes.

1. Diet Counseling and Weight Loss Programs

One in three Americans are obese and face health problems as a result. Health insurance companies are stepping up to help battle our nation’s obesity epidemic. Surveys show 33 states currently require insurance plans to cover diet counseling.

While diet counseling doesn’t mean a free Nutrisystem membership, it may include a referral to a nutritionist from your family doctor. A nutritionist can also be assigned to you through the hospital in severe cases.

2. Smoking Cessation Programs

Some forms of smoking cessation coverage are now mandated by ACA regulations. Duration and treatment vary based on insurance type. In general, if you’re insured through your employer or purchased an individual policy, you can expect four counseling sessions and 90 days of smoking cessation medication. There’s no cost-sharing involved in smoking cessation services, which means no co-pays, co-insurance or deductibles.

These programs fall under the umbrella of mental health and addiction treatment. Rehabilitation for other addictions is also part of mental health services. The American Lung Association offers a specific breakdown of coverage upon request.

3. Chiropractic Care

Nearly 80 percent of Americans will have back pain at some point in their life. Once a primary concern for people over 50, modern trends have broadened the age bracket for people suffering from back pain.

Your body was designed for perpetual movement. Failure to do so inherently results in complications. Consequently, most Americans will need to seek chiropractic treatment at some point in their lives. Fortunately, 45 states in the U.S. cover chiropractic care. However, there aren’t any federal regulations regarding benefits, meaning coverage is determined by the state.

If sitting at your desk all day contributes to backaches and shoulder tightness, and chiropractic care isn’t covered in your state, here’s a free and convenient alternative for pain relief at work. Deskercise, or desk exercise, refers to physical activity you can incorporate into a workday, without leaving your desk.

Exercising at your desk can help ward off back pain commonly triggered by sitting in a chair for an extended period of time. Arm stretches, back arches and shoulder shrugs are a few deskercise ideas for getting a workout, without ignoring office responsibilities.

4. Infertility Treatments

Did you know 19 states regard infertility treatment as an essential health benefit (EHB)?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is becoming prevalent in the United States, especially in millennial women.

While the specifics of treatment differ by state and are still costly despite coverage, benefits can help reduce financial strains from screenings, tests and IVF. Since IVF only has a 40 percent success rate, and each attempt to have a child cost upward of $20,000, this is a major health care perk.

5. Psychiatric Therapy

In 2008, legislation launched a mental health act to make coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorder diagnosees’ equivalent to coverage for medical and surgical services.

The American Psychological Association prohibits an insurance company from charging a $40 co-pay for a psychologist visit if it typically costs $20 for other medical appointments. Yet, many people are still uninformed about this law and don’t know how it applies to them. In fact, a 2014 APA survey revealed more than 90 percent of Americans were unaware of the mental health parity law.

This law is applicable to employer-sponsored health programs with more than 50 employees, health exchanges, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and most Medicaid plans.

6. Mental Health Coverage

Services such as psychotherapy, counseling, inpatient care, substance use disorder treatment, depression screening and preventative therapy have universally improved access to mental health care. This is because the Affordable Care Act requires non-grandfathered insurance plans to cover several of the 10 essential health benefits, such as mental health services.

The majority of these plans must apply parity in cases of mental health, which means if your policy covers three primary care visits per year, you’re eligible to receive three covered mental health appointments.

7. Gym Memberships

There are a number of plans offering gym memberships to staff members, as a means to encourage health-consciousness in the workplace. The inspiration for this movement stems from knowledge about the benefits of exercise. For instance, exercise not only improves your physical health but also enhances your mood and ability to cope with stress.

Once again, the circumstances differ by plan. In some cases, gym membership discounts go beyond employee benefit programs and are offered to individual health care subscribers. Other variations between plans include eliminating fees, offering discounts on monthly premiums and paying a portion of membership costs.

8. Discounted or Free Fitness Tracking Management

Insurers are attempting to differentiate themselves from competitors, by offering upgraded technologies to improve fitness tracking and management. Nonetheless, many consumers remain unaware of this benefit.

At this point, several companies extend incentives beyond discounts and reimbursements for gym memberships. To sustain motivation, some insurers offer a wearable activity tracker, like a Fitbit, while others provide compensation for healthy choices.

In addition, many Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) plans reimburse members for joining a health club or weight-loss program through their partnership with Healthy LifestylesSM Solutions. This promotion incentivizes policyholders to improve their health through the following reimbursement opportunities:

  • Receive a return of $150 on fitness center fees.
  • Get $150 back on an approved weight management program.
  • Collect $150 in repayment for programs to help you quit tobacco.

I participated in this program when I had Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance. As a means to receive the maximum payout, I purchased a one year plan at only $10 a month from Planet Fitness. Upon completing my 120 visits, I had laid out $120 on membership fees and recouped $150 from my insurance. In turn, I netted $30 from participating in this program.

9. Acupuncture

Various plans cover alternative treatments, which deviate from conventional methods. Benefits differ from state-to-state, with some only issuing approval for complementary medicine therapies, like acupuncture, when deemed medically necessary.

Acupuncture restores the balance of energy throughout the body and can alleviate symptoms from a comprehensive range of conditions. As a result, several states including Alaska, California, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington, cover the costs of services as an essential health benefit.

10. Massage Therapy

There are substantial healing properties associated with massage therapy. Studies show it’s effective for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. However, most plans only cover massage therapy when deemed medically necessary. Nonetheless, the possibility of receiving a free massage is a widely unknown health benefit, which undoubtedly most people would appreciate.

In view of federal health care reform, many people aren’t aware of the new benefits included in their plans. However, now more than ever, understanding your coverage is exceedingly important. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most plans currently include a host of new perks, which weren’t covered in the past. Considering the outrageous costs of monthly premiums, it helps you to become familiar with your benefits, in order to get the most out of your health care.

As most plans have grown to include a number of deluxe benefits, such as acupuncture, discounted gym memberships, massage therapy and more, there are some pleasant surprises in store for subscribers. Above all, whether you’re male or female, young or old, hold an individual policy or a family plan, there are some surprising new updates to keep you and your loved ones healthy and happy.

Did you know about these health plan perks and benefits? Which perk sounds the most exciting to you? Be sure to subscribe to Punched Clocks and let us know, plus get more helpful work advice.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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