What’s more important: being physically fit or being financially fit? For one-third of Americans (33%), their physical and emotional well-being is more important than their financial health, according to a recent survey. 

Of course, physical fitness and financial health are not mutually exclusive. Often one affects the other, and access to health benefits may support both. In fact, research shows, having medical insurance is associated with more appropriate use of medical services and better health. 

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The new year may be a good time to time for people to take stock of their current health status and review what resources may be available to them through their insurance plan. Here are five strategies that may help maximize the value of a health plan, whether it’s through an employer, state-based exchange, or government-sponsored programs such as Medicare or Medicaid:  

Understand your plan. To help make optimal health care decisions, it is important for people to fully understand how their plan works, including how to identify network care professionals and any out-of-pocket costs that are required before coverage starts. Yet previous research has shown that some people struggle to fully understand common health care terms and concepts, including plan premium, deductible and co-insurance. For people with access to a health savings account (HSA), it is important to note that contribution limits for 2023 will increase to $3,850 for individuals and $7,750 for family coverage. More broadly, people may be able to improve health literacy by visiting sites like JustPlainClear.com, which provides definitions for thousands of common health care terms in English and Spanish. Improving “health care literacy” could prevent nearly 1 million hospital visits and save over $25 billion a year, according to one study.

Tap into technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how and where people want to get health care, with 71% of Americans saying they are interested in continuing to use virtual care to access medical services, up from 53% in 2021. In response to the pandemic, most employers expanded their virtual care offerings to help remotely address everything from urgent care issues to primary care and behavioral health needs. Some health plans are adding other virtual programs, including ones related to physical therapy, dermatology, and women’s health.  

Watch for wellness programs: Most U.S. employers offer well-being programs, as do many Medicare Advantage plans. Among people with access to an employer-sponsored wellness program, 75% said it has positively impacted their health. To make these initiatives even more appealing, some health plans are offering rewards for simply completing certain healthy activities. These may include things like filling out a health survey, selecting a primary care physician, getting a biometric screening, meeting certain movement goals, and tracking sleep. Plus, instead of virtual coins or rewards that can only be used to help pay for medical care, some programs are allowing members to earn gift cards worth hundreds of dollars annually — and to spend them however they wish. Besides these incentives, people should also look for programs that feature wearable devices and digital fitness apps, which can give daily feedback on activity levels and offer access to live or on-demand fitness classes.        

Comparison shop for care based on quality and cost. The quality and cost of health care can vary widely within a service area, even though there may be little to no additional improvement in health outcomes from care performed by higher-priced providers. With that in mind, a recent survey found that 60% of Americans said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care. While recent national regulations have helped to create greater transparency around hospital prices, people may find more reliable estimates through their health plan. Before scheduling a medical appointment, a person should check with their plan to review quality and cost information, ideally using estimates based on actual contracted rates that are based on that individual’s plan. Some health plans enable members to review out-of-pocket expenses before medical care is delivered, helping take the guesswork out of the costs of medical services. Other approaches include reviewing publicly available transparency resources, asking a doctor or their support staff how much the service will cost, or calling around to other local health care providers to ask about pricing.

Bundle benefits: While people may tend to focus on medical coverage during open enrollment, it’s important that specialty benefits such as vision, dental, hearing, and accident protection not be overlooked. In a survey, 87% of employees said having access to these specialty benefits is “important.” Plus, people who combine medical coverage with specialty benefits through a single health care company may be able to benefit from additional clinical resources, which may help flag gaps in care and reduce the total cost of care. They may also encourage the use of more preventive care services such as annual eye exams or teeth cleanings.  

By considering these tips, people may make more informed decisions related to health care coverage and access, while promoting well-being and helping prevent disease before it starts. 

Author: Dr. Donna O’Shea is chief medical officer of population health management for UnitedHealthcare.