Some Health Costs Rise; Phone-In System Begins
by Dawn Finch
If there is one thing she wants to emphasize for this year's open enrollment, says Benefits' Marie Johnson, it's to make your changes early. With a new system of making changes by phone--instead of filling out forms--it's the best way to guarantee a smooth transition.
Open enrollment begins Nov. 1 and ends at 5 p.m. Nov. 30. During this period, employees can enroll or make changes in medical, dental, vision, legal, dependent care or TIP (tax savings on insurance premiums) plans. They also can add eligible family members to plans.
Foremost among the changes this year is a new HMO among the health plans, PacifiCare; and several changes in monthly charges for health plans, including a significant increase in Prudential High Option and added charges for Kaiser North family coverage and all phases of Health Net coverage.
Making Changes by Phone
To enroll in plans or to take any open enrollment action, employees must call the automated telephone system "bencom" and follow the prompts to the Open Enrollment Action Line. From now through Nov. 30, phone lines designated for Berkeley employees are open around the clock, says Johnson. "Obviously those lines could get pretty busy if people wait until the last week to make their changes," she warns.
Johnson suggests calling no later than Nov. 22, which will allow time to receive a confirmation statement by mail before the end of the month. At any point during the month, the best times to call are late evenings or any time on the weekend.
Phone numbers and step-by-step instructions are printed on the "1995 Open Enrollment Worksheet" included with the announcement employees received in their home mail. Those making changes will use a personal PIN number, which is included on the worksheet (unless the number recently was changed).
In most cases, those switching to a new plan will need PCP (primary care physician) codes, which are listed in directories available by request from the insurance carriers, department benefits counselors or at the Open Enrollment Fair Nov. 13.
"We think employees will find the new telephone system to be convenient," says Johnson. "They can use it any time of day or night. If they change their minds about something, they can just dial up and make alterations. It gives employees direct control over their open enrollment actions."
She notes that PIN numbers are confidential, and that it is not appropriate to share numbers. This means no one should ask another to make his or her changes.
There are a few people--those with a recent change in status, for instance--who may not be admitted to bencom. Department personnel reps have been trained in the new system and can help with problems, says Johnson.
Changes in Monthly Charges
Employees should check the adjacent chart, "Monthly Health Plan Costs." In several cases, monthly charges have changed, or--in the case of Kaiser North family coverage and Health Net--been added.
"None of the HMO plans increased their charges," explained Johnson. "In fact, some reduced their fees." UC contributions, however, are set close to the price of the lowest cost HMO. Thus, the monthly cost is the difference between that amount and the actual cost of a particular plan.
New Health Plan: PacifiCare
A new name appears in this year's HMO list: PacifiCare. This year, all the plans offered at the various campuses have been consolidated into one list and offered systemwide. PacifiCare, previously available on some Southern California campuses, now is available to all campuses. Also note that following a merger, TakeCare is now "FHP/TakeCare." Phone numbers for requesting plan information, including physicians and provider groups, are listed on the last page of the open enrollment booklet.
Read the Book
A number of minor changes in health care coverage are listed in the Open Enrollment book. The only other significant change, says Johnson, is that Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) no longer will be paid on a pre-tax basis through the TIP program.
If you are satisfied with your current plans, there is no need to take any action this month, reminds Johnson. Your current coverage automatically continues unless you change it.
For those who do take action, the effective date for changes is Jan.1, unless they are on leave for health reasons.
Employees are advised to complete the worksheet enclosed in the open enrollment mailing before calling bencom. Department benefits counselors have been trained to help employees complete the sheets. In addition, several "Worksheet Workshops" have been set up to provide assistance, beginning at noon on the following dates:
* Fri., Nov. 3, 101 Morgan Hall
* Mon., Nov. 6, 159 Mulford Hall
* Thurs., Nov. 9, 150 University Hall
Open Enrollment Benefits Fair
An Open Enrollment Fair, offering one-stop shopping for prospective action-takers, will take place Monday, Nov. 13, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Pauley Ballroom in King student center. Representatives from all the plans, investment funds, credit union, etc., will be present to answer questions and provide information. Also, the Benefits Office will provide bencom demonstrations at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. preceding the benefits overview sessions at 10 a.m, noon, and 2 p.m. Worksheet assistance will be provided in Stephens lounge all day long.