Getting the most from your benefits

There are things you can do every day to maximize the program’s value. Sure, there are built-in tax and cost savings, but you have control, too.

And taking control and thinking about your decisions can mean even more savings, not to mention peace of mind, for you and your family.

  • The HP Flexible Benefits Program includes an $8 cap on dispensing fees. Pharmacists charge between $4.99 and $16.99. If you stay with a pharmacist who charges less than $8, you won’t have to pay any extra for dispensing fees.
  • You need to be careful. Some pharmacists charge a low dispensing fee, but the markup on their drugs may be higher. If you stick with the formulary drugs, most of which are generic, their markup is limited by legislation. Not so with the brand-name drugs. Yes, it really does pay to shop around. You’ll find a listing of the formulary drugs on the Manulife website. Go to “Forms”, then “Plan Member Brochures” and you’ll see it under “Dynamic Therapeutic Formulary”.
  • Stick with the formulary. The drugs on the Prescription Drug List include approximately 85% of the drugs that are most commonly prescribed in Canada, and include both generic and brand-name drugs. This list has been compiled by doctors, pharmacists and other medical researchers, and contains those drugs that offer the same therapeutic effectiveness at a lower cost.
  • Pay left-over expenses with your Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) and get 100% back. Just log on to the Manulife site, send them a note and it’s done.
  • It’s wise to shop around for paramedical services. Be wary of those clinics that ask about your coverage rather than focus on your injury. If you’re seeing a chiropractor or physiotherapist, ask about exercises you can do at home to accelerate your recovery, thus reducing the number of times you need to visit the clinic.
  • Remember that your paramedical coverage isn’t something you “use up”. It’s insurance, and it’s meant to offset the cost of treatment when needed. By being conscious of your buying decisions, you’ll be keeping plan costs, and your out-of-pocket costs, down.
  • Understand that our program pays for reasonable and customary expenses, and that’s based on the fee guide established by your province’s dental association. If it looks like you’re not getting the reimbursement you expect, it could mean that your dentist is charging above-market rates. If so, ask your dentist why. He or she may adjust the charges down to market levels; alternatively, you can shop around for a less expensive dentist.
  • There are times when you may need some major dental work. Be sure to get a treatment plan from your dentist and send it, along with an estimate of the amount to be reimbursed, to our insurer for review. It will help you avoid some unexpected surprises.
  • Look at your spouse’s plan. By co-ordinating your benefits, you may receive 100% reimbursement for most dental expenses – assuming, of course, that your dentist is charging based on the fee guide.
  • Your HCSA allows you to spend Company-provided flex dollars, tax free (except in Quebec), on items not covered under the medical option you choose or your provincial health care plan. Normally, you would have to earn about $140 before taxes to pay for a $100 expense. If you direct $100 in excess flex dollars to your HCSA, you have $100 to spend tax free.
  • Really consider the amount of medical and dental coverage you need. If you choose a less comprehensive option, you’ll have more dollars to put toward your HCSA.
  • Nothing will help you keep your current taxes down like a retirement savings plan, and the HP Canada Co. program is tax effective on all fronts.
  • You do not pay tax on any contributions you make to your RRSP or your Spousal RRSP Accounts. That means that, for every $100 you put toward retirement savings, you’re saving between $30 and $40 on this year’s taxes.
  • You don’t pay tax on any of HP Canada’s contributions either.
  • If you earn $60,000 a year, and you contribute 5% of your pay, you’ll receive a dollar-for-dollar match from HP Canada Co. If you’re in a 30% tax bracket, you’ll see about $81 come off each pay cheque, but, at the end of the year, you’ll have $6,000 more in retirement savings. Tax savings? About $1,800.
  • Our plan has a “staircase” rule; that means you can only go up or down one option level with each year’s enrolment. This is something to keep in mind if you anticipate a significant change in your medical or dental needs.
  • The need for orthodontia can be determined years ahead of the date on which the braces are actually applied. Talk to your dentist to estimate when that might be and move into option 3 when you need it – not before.
  • Purchasing prescriptions that you need for a chronic illness in three-month supplies will allow you to reduce dispensing fees, especially if your pharmacist charges above the $8 cap. If you need ongoing medication, save yourself some time, not to mention gas money, and pick up your prescriptions four times a year instead of 12.
  • If your spouse has a benefits plan through his or her employer, you might be better off choosing option 1 and waiving coverage. You can then be covered under your spouse's plan and use the increased flex dollars in your HCSA for reimbursement for amounts not covered by your spouse's plan or the provincial plan.
  • You may already have life insurance coverage through a professional, alumni or community association. Remember this as you determine your life insurance needs.