Plan your family's health year
The new calendar year can feel like a fresh start. We make resolutions, start diet or exercise plans and think about ways to improve our lives. One way to make things a little smoother at home is to organize your family’s health care for the coming year. Look at the big picture and determine who is going to need what and when from a health-related perspective. Maybe you'll help the family budget at the same time.
It might seem incongruous to "plan" for healthcare, but there are certain basics that happen every year: Kids' annual physicals, dentist appointments, your mammogram and so on. Planning for the usual isn't just a good organizational practice, it's practicing preventive medicine -- taking care of things before there's a problem.
More than physicals and dentist appointments
Planning your family's health year is about more than physical appointments -- though those are important and need to be planned. Start by setting up a health calendar for your family, whether online or hard copy. Assign a color to health-related tasks and appointments in the calendar, and set up reminders, too: Reminders to make appointments, refill critical prescriptions, check in on results and the like. We're so busy that it can be easy to forget, so scheduling and reminding can be a helpful tool in keeping family health care running smoothly and heading off conflicts with other events well in advance.
If members of your family see specialists on a regular basis or use medical devices such as glasses, contacts or even nebulizers, make notes in your calendar of when checkups are due or maintenance required. Even if it's just a weekly reminder to clean some tubing or order the next supply of contacts, planning can prevent emergency shipping of those glasses or contacts -- at extra cost, of course.
In planning this way, you can also identify appointments or refills that come up at particularly tight budget times. For example, if you know May is always a little tight with summer camp payments, you can reschedule the eye exam for June or even April so you don't experience quite the same case of checkbook stress you did last year.
Organizing regular healthcare issues for the family includes keeping track of all associated paperwork -- and can keep you ahead of the game when paperwork is needed. If your son wants to play baseball with the high school team, he'll need the paperwork well before workouts start You don't want to be just another mom overloading the pediatrician's office trying to get the paperwork with too little turnaround time.
Flexible spending accounts
All this planning can also help you plan how you use medical care spending accounts -- so you aren't trying to cram in optometrist appointments two weeks before the end of the year when cash is tight and you could use that reimbursement check already. Although you likely will want to keep some of that FSA aside in case of emergency, planning for regular expenses -- and submission of the receipts for those expenses -- can help with the family budget in general.
Keep in mind that FSA rules have changed for 2011. Double-check allowed expenses with your plan provider so you don't try to submit expenses for the dozen first-aid kits you bought at the end of the year to try to use up your FSA, thinking certain over-the-counter items were still allowed expenses.
There likely will still be emergency visits to the doctor's office for an illness or (hopefully minor!) injury, but a resolution to organize the big picture when it comes to the family's healthcare can help your household run so much more smoothly.