I was in the hospital for 8 days. Here’s how it has me rethinking benefits

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A recent medical crisis — which included eight days in the hospital, dozens of doctor visits and prescriptions for medications (not to mention diagnoses!) I couldn’t pronounce on a dare — has me both loathing and loving my benefits more than ever.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, being the editor of a benefits publication and all, but here it is: Sometimes I just really can’t stand the whole thing.

Maybe it’s because of the dozens and dozens of explanations of benefits notices I’ve received in the mail that read like a mild threat designed to put the fear of God in you: “You owe $100,000 for part one of your hospital stay! Just kidding! But seriously, we’ll hit you up later with some arbitrary amount that you still need to pay!”

Maybe it’s because I’ve found billing mistakes that I had to spend time calling to correct. Maybe it’s because I had trouble getting in touch with anyone — from people at my company to the insurance company to the doctor’s office — around the holidays to navigate it all. Maybe it’s because the hospital billing people chose the most opportune time (when I was barely conscious) to come in to collect pay. Maybe it’s because earlier this month I went to get a follow-up CT scan, only to be told when I walked in that my insurance company hadn’t approved it yet.

Sometimes it just makes you sick and tired of the whole process — especially when you’re very sick. And very tired.

It’s no wonder that pretty much everyone is frustrated with health insurance. In fact, employees say they would rather talk to an ex, scrub their toilets or walk across burning hot coals than even look at benefits materials or choose a health plan (so finds surveys from Aflac).

A lot of that frustration comes down to knowledge, or lack thereof. Because — spoiler alert! — insurance is frustrating, anxiety-provoking and confusing. Unfortunately, it only really gets employees’ attention when they are knee-deep in medical claims. Just 4% of Americans are able to correctly define the four terms — deductible, co-pay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum — that determine how much they would personally have to pay for medical services and drugs they receive under their health plans, according to a 2016 survey from Policygenius.

But while the past few months haven’t been my most pleasant to date, my recent medical situation reminds me just how grateful I am to have my health benefits. (And fairly good ones at that — I purchased one of the more comprehensive plans my company offers.)

EBN recently created a list of 50 companies that have made big changes to their benefits packages in the last year. It’s exciting to see what employers are doing for employees in a hot job market: extended paid leave, adoption coverage and student-debt repayment programs, to name a few.

They’re all great — but let’s not forget the most important benefit companies can offer: employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

Nonetheless, be honest: Your employees will never appreciate the health benefits you offer them if they don’t understand them or struggle to navigate them during some of life’s most difficult times. So what will you do differently this year?

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