Squeeze More Out of Your Income with Employee Benefits

How to Make Your Salary Go Further with Employer Group Benefits

Employee Benefit Savings
Employee Benefit Savings. Depositphotos.com

Most consumers consider the cost of buying health insurance a burden, which is not surprising considering that premiums continue to rise. According to an independent analysis conducted by USA Today, insurance purchased on the marketplace in just the last year has had an average rate increase of 7.5 percent in 30 of the largest markets. Additionally, deductibles are up for all plans and it’s getting harder to obtain health insurance with out of pockets of less than $3,000 per plan member.

How can health care consumers get more out of their incomes without scrimping on coverage?

Fortunately, most employers are doing all they can to provide low cost group employee benefits that enable members to make their health care dollars stretch further. Employers are turning to three and four tier health care plan options that give consumers more choices. On top of that, employers are offering a wide range of voluntary plan options at group rates that won’t break the bank.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways that employees can squeeze more out of their incomes by being smart health care consumers and choosing the right programs for their needs. Using a customized and smart strategy, it’s possible to make earnings count. Some ways to do this include:

Participating in the employer’s Flexible Spending and Health Savings Arrangements

Every year, millions of consumers leave dollars on the table by not taking part in their employer’s FSA and HSA programs.

This is a costly mistake. Even putting a small amount of money away on one of these types of accounts can save you a great deal in taxes and the money is portable for medical and dependent care expenses. The government allows individuals to save as much as $3,350 for individuals and $6,750 for families (as of 2016 guidelines).

For FSAs, you can put aside $5,000 for the family, and FSAs also now allow for a roll-over of $500 each year.

Negotiate for the best rates for medical services, prescriptions, and more.

Many health care consumers do not realize that they can shop around for the best rates on medical services, medications, and other necessary health needs. A Washington Post article highlighted the fact that medical costs for similar or the same procedures can vary widely from one provider to another – largely because they can charge what they want. For example, one hospital in the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area charged $117,000 for a lower limb replacement, while another medical center charged $25,600 for the identical procedure. Call around and negotiate for the best rates, including for prescription drugs and durable medical equipment.

Use transit benefits to rack up the tax savings

In many cities, companies offer transit benefits for daily commuters to offset the costs of parking or using public transportation. Companies with as little as 20 employees in major metropolitan areas may offer generous transit benefits that can rack up to $255 or more per month (as approved by the IRS) and it’s conveniently handled directly through payroll processing.

Find out if you can put this money into a special pre-tax account and if you park your own vehicle and ride the bus or subway in, you can double-dip on these benefits. Don’t forget to track mileage to and from doctor’s appointments too, which you can claim on your annual taxes.

Take advantage of wellness programs and incentives

Based on a 2015 report from the Society for Human Resource Management, “more than two-thirds of U.S. employers offer wellness programs as part of their benefits packages.” (Source: Forbes) This means, companies are focused more than ever on helping employees to maintain health and well-being throughout their employment experience. Stretching your income can be as simple as taking time to work out in the corporate gym each week, a measure that could save you as much as $5000 a year off the cost of a fitness membership.

In addition, health care plans often provide cash incentives for participating in wellness programs and reaching milestones, like weight loss and smoking cessation.