How To Make Sure You Get The Best Benefits Package

In this episode, Maggie chats with Kim Buckey about how finding a new job can be an opportunity for increased financial wellness, what kinds of benefits you should be looking for, and how to choose the right employer for you. If you struggle to have the right benefits coverage, this episode is for you.

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Kim is DirectPath’s key advisor and senior subject matter expert on new and evolving compliance issues that affect employers as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Kim, who founded and directs the DirectPath compliance communications team, works closely with sales, explores the potential impact on customer segments to develop new products and services to support current and anticipated needs.

Kim has more than 40 years of communications experience, 35 of which focus on the delivery of compliance communications for health/welfare and qualified (savings/pensions) plans. Kim’s team provides strategy, review and analysis, content development and management services for employer and payer customers, providing guidance on new mandates like the required Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) and the growing trend of Medicare Advantage and its required compliance documents.

To learn more about Maggie and her coaching and speaking services, visit www.maggiegermano.com.

The theme music is called Escaping Light by Aaron Sprinkle. The podcast artwork design is by Maggie’s dear husband, Dan Rader.


TRANSCRIPTION

Maggie Germano 0:05
Hi, and thanks for listening to the money circle podcast. I’m your host, Maggie Germano, and I’m a feminist and a financial writer, speaker, educator and coach for women. I’m passionate about making personal finance less scary and more approachable so that women can improve their relationship with money and take control of their finances. Every other week, I will interview an amazing, inspiring woman to talk about the issues that impact our money, our health, our independence, and more. We will touch on the societal and structural issues that we need to work together to change and the actions that we each have the power to take in our own lives. If you’d like to learn more about me and the work that I do, visit my website at Maggiegermano.com or follow me on Instagram @MaggieGermano. Thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoy.

Hey there, and thanks for listening. I’m your host, Maggie Germano. And this week, I’m chatting with Kim Buckey, who is the VP of Client Services at DirectPath, a company that guides employees and employers through the complex healthcare system to help you choose the right plan for yourself. In this episode, we talked about how finding a new job can be an opportunity for increased financial wellness, we touch on what kinds of benefits you should be looking for, and how to choose the right employer for you. If you have found yourself struggling to find the right benefits coverage, this episode is for you. Enjoy.

Welcome, Kim, thanks so much for being here today.

Kim Buckey 1:37
Thanks for having me.

Maggie Germano 1:39
So why don’t you tell everyone who you are and what you do?

Kim Buckey 1:42
Okay, I am vice president of Client Services at DirectPath. We work to help both employers and employees save money by driving employee understanding of their health and welfare benefits. And we do this in a couple of different ways. One is one on one, education and enrollment support. One is advocacy and transparency services to help employees make the best choices for where to get their health care, and helping resolve those nasty bills that you get after the fact. And then also in providing year round communication support to employers to make sure that employees do in fact understand their benefits. My personal role is sort of senior subject matter expert on all things health and welfare and regulations affecting those benefits. So we can help figure out how that’s going to affect our employee, our clients, their employees and the business that we offer.

Maggie Germano 2:47
That’s great. And I mean, from what I’ve experienced myself, and then also from what I’ve heard from other people, this is really important work because the benefits side of things in the healthcare especially it can be really confusing and compound guessing. Yes. So how did you find yourself in this line of work?

Kim Buckey 3:06
Well, I don’t think anybody intends to find themselves in this line of work. I have a public relations degree from Boston University. So I was sort of primed on the the writing and communication side of it. right out of college, I ended up working in consulting, first at a PR agency, and then for some benefits consulting firms. And in the course of that started to specialize in employee communications. And obviously, one of the big needs related to employee communications is around benefits. So I’ve become a benefits nerd.

Maggie Germano 3:41
That’s great. I mean, there are worse things for sure.

Kim Buckey 3:44
I think, like I said, this is important. Lifetime job security.

Maggie Germano 3:47
Yeah, exactly.

Kim Buckey 3:49
They keep changing the rules. I’m good. Right?

Maggie Germano 3:52
Yeah, you got to learn something new every day, probably

Kim Buckey 3:54
Exactly.

Maggie Germano 3:56
So after, you know, obviously, everyone listening and you know that we’ve been in a global pandemic for over a year. Now, hopefully, we’re seeing kind of the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines and everything. But there’s been a lot of struggle, and people have really seen how important it is to have obviously employment and access to health care, and usually the combination of the two. But can you talk a little bit more about how I mean, as as things are kind of starting to get better? Again, people are probably getting possibly new job opportunities. Can you talk about how new job opportunities can be in an opportunity for financial well being?

Kim Buckey 4:42
Sure. So you’re absolutely right. I was just reading a study yesterday that said that a third of us workers have either changed employers or lost their jobs since February of last year because of the pandemic. And then Prudential just released a study saying that 20% 20 6% of workers plan to look for a new job, once it’s time to go back to work. So clearly, there’s a lot of opportunity to make some changes, and people are realizing what’s important to them, whether it’s working from home, or just the flexibility, or, gee, I really need more medical coverage than I have my kind of thing. So absolutely, you know, as you start to look for a new opportunity, besides the potential for an increase in pay, of course, it’s an opportunity to look for a better benefits package that fits your current needs. You know, so many of us will be starting job, we elected benefits package, and then just, again, despite the fact that we might have gotten married, children be getting close to retirement. So now we have an opportunity to really assess what’s available and what makes sense for our current life situation. So that’s also the opportunity to fill in some of those gaps that might have been making you feel financially insecure.

Maggie Germano 6:10
Yeah, absolutely. And I like something that you said, where it’s like, aside from just the salary, it’s important to look at the other pieces. And I think about that a lot, where it’s not just your paycheck, that is part of your compensation. There’s also so many other things associated with your full compensation package. So how do you how do you encourage people to kind of think of your benefits as a not a small part, a big part of that greater compensation package? and encourage them to actually be looking at those pieces, not just at the salary number?

Kim Buckey 6:46
Right? Well, I think most people don’t realize that benefits represent about 30% of your total compensation package. And so that’s a pretty big deal. And it’s a portion of your package that you probably have the most control over. So you know, most employers offer some form of medical, dental vision, some combination thereof, some kind of disability protection, some kind of life insurance protection. But typically, you have a choice of options within those plan types, you may be able to buy up. So for example, your employer might provide you with a certain level of long term disability or life insurance, but you can buy more coverage if you want to. So there’s a lot of flexibility which you, you know, don’t have on other aspects of your compensation. So it’s, it’s really something that bears looking at and bears looking at at least once a year.

Maggie Germano 7:51
Oh, yeah, I totally agree. So if someone’s contemplating a new job, like you said, a lot of people either lost their jobs or they want to start looking for a new job. What should they be looking for? Specifically, when it comes to their benefits package? I know everyone’s needs are going to be different. But overall, what when they’re looking for a new employer? What should they be looking for?

Kim Buckey 8:15
Yeah, that’s exactly what I was going to say it depends on your personal situation. Obviously, what’s right for someone who just graduated college is not going to be the same as what’s right for a middle manager with a young family or someone who is maybe getting closer to retirement. So certainly, you know, give some thought going into what’s most important to you. If you are young and right out of college, maybe you’re really rich medical plan is not a priority for you, you may be more interested in some help with student loans. Sort of the cliche at this point, but wherever whereas if you have a young family, having a richer medical plan could be very helpful, because you’ve got kids that are, you know, playing sports and breaking arms and stuff. So just going in, think about what’s important to you. Think about to how much your prospective employer is going to be contributing to the pot. So certainly, if you see that they’re offering a high deductible health plan, you’re going to want to see do they offer a health savings account or a Health Reimbursement Account, or some way to help support you financially as you start to navigate that plan. You’ll also want to take a look at sneaky little things. And this may be something that you have to ask sort of further into the interview process rather than as you walk in the door. But you know, do they offer domestic partner coverage That may be a very big deal, depending on your situation. Is there a penalty? If you want to cover your spouse? Is there a surcharge if you’re a tobacco user? You know, these these little gotchas that most people don’t even think about. You’ll also want to look at just what kind of overall wellness programs the employer offers. And that’s certainly been a big growth area. Everything from, you know, financial wellness be at identity protection, or credit counseling or legal services, to mental health support, do they have an employee assistance program? Do they offer a meditation app? Do they have gym memberships? You know, again, what’s important to you, but these are things to look for. Certainly, the large employer, the more likely, it’ll be that they’ll have rich offerings like that, with smaller to midsize employers, something to think about is their voluntary benefit offerings. These are sort of add on plans that you as the employee pay the full cost of, but you get the benefit of a group rate. So it’s generally less expensive to buy. So that can be things again, like additional life insurance, it could be dental, and vision, depending on the employer. Things like critical illness insurance that pay you an extra benefit, if you become seriously ill, a hospital indemnity plan that pays you a certain amount of money per day that you’re in the hospital. Just additional levels of financial protection.

Maggie Germano 11:42
Yeah, and like you said, even if it’s something that you have to cover yourself, it still may be something that, like you said, it’s more affordable, because it’s part of a group rate, or in something you might not even think to get access to outside of your employer that you might see and think, oh, wow, okay, that’s, I need that, or I want that for my own security. And yeah, it’s important to look for those things. And so you mentioned earlier that sometimes with benefits, there are things that you have a little bit more control over than perhaps your actual salary. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Like, is it a matter of just having more plans to potentially choose from or are there benefits that are actually negotiable?

Kim Buckey 12:28
I think these days, there isn’t much that’s tremendously negotiable. Certainly something like working from home, which I think after the pandemic, most of us see as a benefit that we want to continue, you know, may not be five days a week, but you may be able to negotiate a couple of days a week working from home, possibly some additional paid time off, you know, perks, like a cell phone, or some kind of stipend to cover you working from home. Most of the other benefits have very specific regulations about who is eligible and who can join the plan, when so the company could run afoul of some regs if they tried to bend the rules to accommodate, you know, an individual person. But, you know, to your point, certainly, there is often a choice of plans to choose from particularly, we see that with medical dental, you might have two options vision, you might have two options, medical, we typically see three or four choices. So you can, you know, look at a plan that makes sense for you financially, keeping in mind that the cheapest plan isn’t always the one with the lowest premium. The lowest premium often comes with the high deductible. And if you’re a heavy healthcare user that can come back to bite you further down the line. So it’s just remembering to look at the total cost of the plan option.

Maggie Germano 14:01
Yeah, that’s really important. I’ve definitely had that conversation with like, younger cousins of mine or friends were like, oh, but the premiums so low for this, this one plan, and then the deductibles, 1000s and 1000s of dollars. And I’m like, well, like my wife. She She was looking at it, she was contemplating a plan and a new employer that wouldn’t even cover prescriptions until after a deduct deductible and she was consistent prescriptions. And I was like, I don’t know if you recognize the like impact of that financially and then also potentially not having access to what you need. And so yeah, I think that’s important looking at the big picture, not just like the one number and how it’s going to impact you overall.

Kim Buckey 14:43
Yeah, absolutely. My husband happens to be diabetic and one fill of his insulin medically it’s a six month supply is to grant and we have a $3,000 deductible so I’m paying that out of pocket. However, the deductible for that plan is so low, it was kind of a no brainer that it did happen to work out that that was the better choice for us. But, and one thing to keep in mind if you have been employed before, don’t assume that you’re new or prospective employers. PPO plan is works the same way as your last employers. Or particularly with a high deductible plan, you might find that prescription drugs are handled differently. Sometimes after you meet the deductible. It’s a copay. Sometimes you’re paying a percentage of the cost. And if you’re used to one, it can be a rude shock to discover it’s suddenly something else.

Maggie Germano 15:46
Yeah, absolutely. So related to that. What are some of the questions people should be asking? Like, say you’re you’re getting further along in the interview process? So you’re maybe past the salary conversation, but you’re moving into the benefits conversation? What are some of the questions people should be asking to make sure that they understand,

Kim Buckey 16:04
I would ask for any materials they can provide you. So every plan has to have what’s called a Summary of Benefits and Coverage. It’s sort of described as the nutrition label of benefits or health plans. And that provides you with an overview of limb critical information. So what the deductible is what the copay and coinsurance is, what your out of pocket Max is, how certain common procedures are covered by the plan. And they have to give you that for each of the plan options. So you’ll have something on paper that you can sort of spread out on a table and Oregon look at online and just look at side by side. So that can be tremendously helpful. Most, you know, large employers in particular will have some kind of either highlights brochure that they can share with you to provide provide an overview, or they can direct you to a website that provides, you know, some general information. So certainly ask about about that. You might also ask what kind of resources they make available to you both at enrollment as a new hire during annual enrollment. And then during the course of the year, if you do need support, or if you have questions during the year, you know, as we noted at the beginning of the conversation, this is not easy. You know, I’ve been doing it for 40 years, and occasionally I still come across.

Maggie Germano 17:36
Like what?

Kim Buckey 17:38
So, you know, certainly you should never feel embarrassed about not understanding a term or a concept. And looking for an employer that offers somewhere for you to go when you have those questions, you know, can can really benefit you in the long run? Because the more you understand, the more you’ll be able to use your benefits appropriately.

Maggie Germano 18:00
Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve heard that so many people end up leaving a lot on the table or just not utilizing their benefits to the full extent. And one of the when I had when I was employed, I had one of my favorite benefits was an advocate that we had that would could help us with our health care benefits. If I got a bill that I didn’t understand why I got it or some other error, I could just send them the information and they would make phone calls for me and help get at least get the answer even if not actually sorting it out for me. And that was like, it was invaluable to me because I know that dealing with insurance companies and dealing with doctors offices and hospitals can be incredibly stressful. People just give in and and pay right. And so having someone there who can at least explain things to you give you the answers is incredibly helpful. So I like that piece that you mentioned of like, right or someone you can turn to internally.

Kim Buckey 18:59
Yeah, and one service that I touched on very early in the conversation and more and more employers are offering our transparency services. I think we’re gonna start hearing a lot more about that we’ve seen stories in the news about how the hospitals aren’t exactly complying with the rules that they’re supposed to be complying with about sharing costs of procedures with the public. Over the next couple of years, employers are also going to have to share information about what they cover. You know, most of us are already confused about benefits. Now we’re layering this this transparency piece, what the heck. So a lot of employers are offering a transparency service where, for example, if if your doctor says you need an MRI, you can call up those advocates and say, Okay, my doctor says I need an MRI of my neck. What do I do? Where do I go? And we’ll provide a report with three different options. All similar quality all within your network in your geographic Pick area. And you can choose, you know, you have an idea of what it’s going to cost you and you can make a choice, do you want to pay, you know, the highest or the most expensive? Because for whatever reason you think that’s the best or that so your doctor recommended? Or do you want similar care, but the less expensive option saving yourself money and ultimately, your employer money. And a lot of companies are also adding a reward element to that. So if you do pick one of the less expensive options, you get some kind of benefit as well might be extra cash in your paycheck, it might be a gift card, you know, some kind of resource or add on for you. So again, that’s one of those programs that, you know, look for it, ask for it. It’s just gives you tremendous peace of mind, because you know that you’re not going to pay more than you have to for good quality care.

Maggie Germano 20:58
Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I mean, I feel like having that kind of comparison could be a game changer for so many people. Because, again, there’s this assumption that like, it costs what it costs, and you have no control over it. And that’s often just not the case.

Kim Buckey 21:13
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, my doctor did recommend that I have an MRI of my neck and I used our service for that. The hospital that she was affiliated with wanted to charge $3,000 there was a study standalone facility associated with the hospital that I think wanted to charge about $800. And then there was an independent facility that’s local here in Michigan, that does nothing but MRIs and CAT scans, and that kind of screening, and it would have been $250 to go there. Just a little bit of a difference.

Maggie Germano 21:55
Just a huge, major difference that could put throw someone into debt versus just being a bad payment bill.

Kim Buckey 22:03
Exactly. And if you can imagine that much difference just for diagnostic tests, think about you know, hip replacement surgery or heart surgery or something major. Yeah, absolutely.

Maggie Germano 22:15
Oh, wow. That’s definitely something I would encourage people to look for as an employee benefit for sure. Um, so is there anything that we haven’t touched on yet? You know, we talked a little bit about, you know, how to use the potential job changes and opportunity to get you know, that financial wellness and general health, wellness, and also some of the questions to ask in a in an interview, but is there anything else that you want to make sure listeners take away from this conversation that we haven’t yet touched on?

Kim Buckey 22:48
Well, I would just reiterate again, if you don’t understand something, ask, I will qualify that by saying, don’t ask your next door neighbor, your sister, even your co worker, they are likely not benefits experts. And even if they are they’re not going to know the ins and outs of that company’s plan. And they’re not going to know the ins and outs of your life situation and what you need. So you want to talk to an expert at that company and get your questions answered. Ask for materials, force yourself to read up on what’s available to you. It’s you mentioned earlier, so many people don’t even realize that there are programs out there. I keep forgetting myself, our health plan offers an $85 payment if you get a mammogram or you know, a similar screening. And every year, we get an email, I’m like, Oh, darn, I forgot to do that. It’s just, you know, these little programs that either, you know, save you money by preventing you from paying more than you have to, or just give you a little bonus for doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Maggie Germano 24:09
Right plus, then it encourages you to actually get the health care that you should probably be seeking out.

Kim Buckey 24:16
Exactly, exactly. And you know, just a reminder again, that, you know, preventive health care is covered at 100%. So don’t pass up the opportunity to get those tests that you need every year.

Maggie Germano 24:30
I agree. I will echo that. So is there anything else that you want folks to know or anything about your organization that you want to promote to listeners?

Kim Buckey 24:42
Um, well, I would say if you want more information about any of our services or just want to read, you know, some more about health care, as you might have picked up, promoting and explaining health care and benefits is a you know, sort Have a personal soapbox of mine. So I do write about it quite a bit. I’m on Twitter @SPDKim. You can certainly use your search engine of choice and search my name and direct path health. You can also email me at [email protected] if anyone has specific questions, and our website is directpathhealth.com. Don’t forget the health part. There are a lot of direct paths out there that do other things.

Maggie Germano 25:34
Great and I will be sure to link all that on the show notes so people don’t have to go searching and Remember that.

Kim Buckey 25:40
Yes, yeah. Great.

Maggie Germano 25:42
Well, thank you so much for having this conversation. I know that not everyone is a benefits expert or nerd like you were saying. But this conversation is it’s just so important. And just making sure people get the coverage and the care that they need is very important. So I appreciate you sharing your expertise.

Kim Buckey 26:01
My pleasure. Good talking to you.

Maggie Germano 26:03
You too.

Thank you so much for listening to the money circle podcast this week. If you like the conversations we’re having here and you’d like to go even deeper. Join the new money circle community. In this safe intersectional feminist space. We will break down money shame and build community and safety for everyone so that you can find the support you need to gain control over your finances. Visit Maggiegermano.com/moneycircle to learn more. And to join. If you’d like to get more connected with me, subscribe to my weekly newsletter at Maggiegermano.com/subscribe. To learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings or just to read my blog visit Maggiegermano.com. You can also follow me on instagram and twitter @MaggieGermano. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye bye.