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J.Thomas Russell DDS
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How to Find the Right Dentist for You
With just a few weeks left in 2009, consumers should check that they aren't leaving any health-insurance money on the table.
Health plans increasingly have design features that are tied to a 12-month cycle, including annual deductibles, free yearly preventive checkups and flexible-spending accounts. Consumers who don't pay attention to the calendar risk wasting fully covered benefits and paying more than they have to for medical procedures delayed until next year. The amount of money at stake keeps getting bigger, as people with health coverage are forced to pick up a growing share of the cost of their care.
But if your plan benefits do roll over in January, as is common among many employer plans, the first thing you might want to check is that you aren't missing out on the free stuff. Employees at more than 90% of midsize and large employers can get yearly preventive checkups and tests while making only a small or no copayment, says consulting firm Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby Inc. The most common of these procedures are physicals, mammograms, gynecological exams and prostate screenings, according to Watson Wyatt Worldwide. If you have dental coverage, the free or nearly free care will likely include two cleanings a year, while vision plans probably cover at least an eye exam.
Matthew Messina, a dentist in Fairview Park, Ohio, says he often performs deep-cleaning procedures over two sessions, doing half of the patient's mouth in December and the other half in January. That way, the person can take advantage of two years' benefits and not waste any of the payout. "Once it's gone, it's gone," says Dr. Messina, who is a consumer advisor to the American Dental Association.
Another important end-of-year check is on your flexible-spending account, if you have one. It's an increasingly common benefit that was provided by 83% of large employers last year, according to Mercer, a consulting unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. The pretax money that consumers set aside in these accounts often must be used by the end of the year, though many employers allow a "grace period" until March 15. After that, the unused balance vanishes.
Bottom Line? Use them or lose them.
From Wall street journal 11/11/2009 -- http://ow.ly/Bk4U