Open enrollment is coming up – the time of the year when you have the option to sign up for health insurance and workplace benefits or change your current plan. Often, what seems like a straightforward process can actually feel quite overwhelming. There’s a lot of information to take in. Choosing the right plan could potentially save you thousands of dollars over the course of a year.
Fortunately, by taking the time to do your research and asking the right questions, you can make an educated decision. We’ve pulled together the information you need to understand the process, choose the best options and move forward with confidence.
What Is Open Enrollment?
Open enrollment gives you a chance to add benefits or switch plans, whether it’s due to personal preference or in response to changes in your life, like a new health condition. It usually happens once a year. However, some organizations may have a different open enrollment schedule.
Why Do Benefit Plans Change Year-to-Year?
Benefit plans can change for a variety of reasons, including:
- Insurance companies update their offerings to comply with local and federal laws and adjust pricing for inflation and risk.
- Employers reevaluate their insurance providers and plans to ensure they have the best options for their employees.
While open enrollment is your chance to select a health plan for the coming year, it’s also a time when many employers offer you the ability to enroll in other benefits too, including:
- Dental insurance
- Vision plans
- Seguro de vida
- Voluntary or Supplemental insurance coverage like Accident, Critical Illness, Disability and Hospital Indemnity
Generally, open enrollment is the only time you can make changes to your benefit selections, but there is an exception to this rule. You can sign up for insurance or change your coverage when you have a qualifying life event. A qualifying life event can include:
- New baby
- Death of a spouse
- Change in employment
What To Expect During Open Enrollment
Open enrollment is usually held in October or November for insurance plans that start Jan. 1. Some employers might hold it at different times of the year, so check with your employer to learn more.
The open enrollment period typically lasts two to three weeks. Many employers allow you to make changes up until the last day to enroll, so even after you make a selection, you can still go back and review your options to make sure you’re confident with your choice. Research your employer’s policy to know whether this applies to you.
While there’s a lot to think about during open enrollment, the process is fairly standard. Here are the steps to follow:
- Prepare as much as possible for upcoming benefit needs.
- Review the information your employer has provided.
- Decide whether you want to renew your current plan or select a new one.
- Make your selection and enroll in the plan of your choice.
- Confirm the start date of your new coverage.
How To Prepare for Open Enrollment
While the stack of paperwork may be daunting, it’s important to carefully read and understand all the information that your employer provides. Take advantage of any additional resources offered, such as questionnaires that help you identify your priorities, cost comparison and coverage tools. Familiarize yourself with some of the common terminology used to talk about health benefits and any jargon you don’t understand, like co-insurance, deductible and in-network versus out-of-network.
- Never assume. There may have been changes to your current plan for the upcoming year. Don’t assume that if you just renew your plan everything will remain the same.
- Compare what’s available to you. Compare each plan’s coverage and costs – not just the premium, but also deductibles, copays and co-insurance. Typically, open enrollment sites offer side-by-side comparisons that take the guesswork out of the process for you.
- What are your needs? Think about how your needs might have changed in the last year or how they may change in the year to come. If you’re in your 20s, for example, and you’ve been covered under your parents’ insurance, you’ll need to get your own coverage after you turn 26.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Anticipate what your out-of-pocket medical costs might be in the coming year. While nobody can predict emergencies like a car accident or unexpected health problem, if you’re generally in good health and rarely go to the doctor, you may save money on a plan with a high deductible. These plans have a lower premium but require the employee to pay more money out-of-pocket before insurance coverage kicks in.
- Prepare for the expected. On the other hand, if you know you’re in need of a joint replacement or you’re planning on having a baby, a traditional plan – one that has higher premiums but starts covering your health care costs right away or after you pay a lower deductible – might better help you cover your medical bills.
We’ve compiled a list of questions you can ask your employer during open enrollment to help dig into some of the finer details.
Remember, you may only get the chance to change your insurance during open enrollment, so take the time to make an informed decision. By selecting a plan that’s right for you and your family, you’ll not only get the health care and benefits you need, but you’ll also save money in the long run.