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Job-Based Health Insurance for People With MS

Posted on May 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

Job-based health insurance includes various health insurance plans offered as a benefit of employment. Also known as employer-based insurance or group coverage, this insurance is given to employees by their employers or unions. If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and work at a company with more than 50 employees, your employer likely will offer you some form of health insurance coverage. You may also have access to employer-based insurance at smaller companies.

If you have MS and do not have a job or your company doesn’t offer health insurance, job-based health insurance may still be available to you through your spouse or parent (up to age 26). Although job-based health insurance plans vary by company and may fluctuate with the economy, understanding your insurance options will help you to find the best plan to help cover health care costs for treating your MS.

Common Types of Job-Based Health Insurance Plans

Job-based health insurance plans vary by employers, and health benefits depend on the agreements made between employers and health insurance companies. There are several common types of health insurance policies offered by employers.

Health Maintenance Organization Plans

Health maintenance organization (HMO) plans are health insurance plans that operate within a network. Under an HMO plan, only specific doctors, facilities, and services will be covered. If you go out of the network for care — such as emergency services or urgent care outside of the HMO’s operating area — the health plan may not cover the associated costs. In these cases, you will have to pay out of pocket. An HMO plan may only be available to you if you live and work within the network’s area of coverage.

With HMO plans, you usually have to pick a primary physician within that plan’s network. To see a specialist, such as a neurologist, you will need to first visit your primary physician and get a referral from them. HMOs usually cover prescription drugs, but you should review the formulary (or list of drugs) that they cover.

Preferred Provider Organization Plans

Like HMO plans, preferred provider organization (PPO) plans offer care within a network of hospitals and physicians. You will pay higher costs if you receive care from a provider that is outside of that PPO’s network.

Unlike an HMO plan, you do not need to select a primary care physician within a PPO plan’s network. You can usually keep the primary physician you already have. You also will not need to get a referral from a primary care physician (PCP) before seeing a specialist.

PPO plans, in general, are more flexible than HMO plans in that you may receive care from health care providers that are either in or out of the plan’s network. While PPOs are more flexible, they may cost more than HMO plans. You should factor higher monthly premiums, copays for doctors' visits, and annual deductibles into your decision-making process.

Point of Service Plans

Sometimes employers offer point of service (POS) health plans, which cover care within a network of hospitals and physicians. You may still receive care outside of the plan’s network, but costs will be higher.

Like with an HMO plan, you will initially need to select a primary care physician within a POS plan. This PCP will also help to manage your care and provide referrals to specialists from within the plan’s network. POS plans may cost less, but if you select this type of plan, you may need to change your health care providers and work through a PCP to manage your MS.

Picking an Insurance Plan

If you have MS and are selecting a job-based health insurance plan, you will want to check that a health plan covers:

  • Your primary physician
  • Your specialist physicians, like neurologists
  • Your prescription drugs for MS
  • Other health services you use, like physical and occupational therapy

You should enroll in a job-based health insurance plan as soon as possible after employment begins or during open enrollment. Your employer’s human resources department should be able to assist you with reviewing and selecting the best health plan for your needs.

Cost of Job-Based Health Insurance Plans

The cost of job-based health insurance will vary by the types of health plans available through the providing employer or union. The cost of the plan will sometimes be inversely related to the plan’s flexibility. For example, an HMO plan may cost less, but it also may offer a limited pool of doctors to choose from.

With job-based health insurance plans — like other insurance plans — you will have to pay a monthly premium. However, your employer will subsidize a portion of that monthly cost — or perhaps all of it. You will be responsible for a portion of the costs for hospitalizations, surgeries, emergency care, copays for doctor’s visits, and medications.

With job-based health care, people with MS will usually put the most costs toward:

  • The annual deductible, which is the limit you must reach on your out-of-pocket spending before the insurance company will assist with payments
  • Copayments for doctor and specialist visits
  • Costs of any benefits that are not covered by the plan

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers several tips for keeping costs down while on a job-based health insurance plan:

  • Understand which costs you will be responsible for with your health plan.
  • Research and compare costs of different job-based health plans offered to you. A website called FairHealth.org may be useful in comparing the costs of different health insurance plans.
  • Take advantage of the preventive health and wellness programs covered by your health insurance program to maintain your health.
  • Use doctors, other providers, and facilities that are within your health plan’s network. Use generic drugs, and use urgent-care centers instead of hospital emergency rooms when possible.

Affording Health Care

If you need additional assistance with paying out-of-pocket costs for treating your MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides a list of patient-assistance programs, which offer financial assistance based on the MS medication you are taking. Review this list to see if you may qualify for additional financial assistance.

If you have a job-based health insurance plan and need additional financial support to cover the expenses of treating your MS, you may seek assistance for copays and premium costs through a charitable organization called The Assistance Fund. Eligibility is based on your current insurance and income, and you can learn more and enroll in their programs on their website.

Options if You Lose Your Job-Based Health Insurance Plan

If your job-based health insurance plan ends — whether you lose your job, decide to leave, or retire — you have several other options for health insurance.

  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) — Under COBRA law, if you are terminated, your employer must offer you the continuation of the same health care coverage you had while you were employed for a specified period of time. You will then be responsible for the full cost of the plan’s monthly premium.
  • Medicare — Medicare is the federally sponsored health insurance plan in the United States that covers adults over age 65 and certain adults under 65 who have disabilities.
  • Medicaid — Medicaid is a state-operated health insurance program for people of low income, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
  • Individual insurance — You may select an individual policy on the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov, and you may qualify for tax credits on your premium costs.
  • Private insurance — You may enroll in an insurance policy directly from a private insurance company, but this will likely be the most costly option for health insurance coverage.

Help and Talking With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 167,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

Do you have MS and use job-based health insurance? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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