It's open enrollment time again.
And with new regulations in place because of health reform, as well as ever increasing health costs, employees can use all the help they can get.
Get your plan materials.
Pay attention to how your employer is making your SBCs and the traditional Summary Plan Descriptions available to you. Many are making them more accessible online, via mobile apps as well as on paper. It’s good to know how you can access this information during open enrollment and throughout the year, in case you want to review it again when you are in need of a particular medical service.
[Also read "Summary of benefits provision goes into effect"]
Do your homework.
Take the time during open enrollment to truly read through your plan materials, including the SBCs and SPDs, to make yourself familiar with each of your plan options. Reading each of these materials will give you the detailed plan descriptions you need to decide on the best plan for you and your family in the coming year.
Calculate your costs.
Many employers provide cost calculators to help project your total cost for the coming plan year. The total cost includes the premium you pay as well as your share of the deductible and coinsurance. Take the time during open enrollment to think through your potential medical needs and calculate your anticipated expenses before selecting a plan. It may save you hundreds in the long run.
Consider an account.
If your employer offers you the option of a health care account, whether it is a flexible spending account, a health reimbursement account or a health savings account, take a good look at it. These accounts can help you save money on qualified medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health care plan, such as deductibles and coinsurance. Each account has a different set of rules about how and when you can spend the money, but each are worth considering because the savings you’ll see can add up quickly.
Ask if you have a grandfathered plan.
One of the benefits of health care reform is an extended list of preventive care benefits that must be offered by new health care plans for free. Preventive services such as colonoscopy screenings for colon cancer, pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits and flu shots for all children and adults must be offered without out-of-pocket costs.
However, these benefits are only for new health plans and don’t apply to “grandfathered” plans that haven’t significantly changed in a few years. Find out if your plan is considered to be “grandfathered” and identify exactly what preventive services are covered for free.
Prepare for the unexpected.
Everyone needs to be prepared for the unexpected, including job loss, divorce or other life-changing events. Be sure you know what the benefits plan costs might be if you need to pay for it under COBRA.
COBRA requires that most employers with group health plans must offer employees the opportunity to continue temporarily their group health care coverage under their employer's plan if their coverage otherwise would cease due to termination, layoff, or other change in employment status (referred to as “qualifying events”). However, COBRA insurance must be paid entirely by the former employee. Be certain that if you need to continue your company’s health coverage that you are comfortable with the full premium cost should you need to pay for it on your own.
Use wellness incentives.
More employers than ever before are offering incentives to employees and their family members for health improvement. These incentives may come in the form of medical premium discounts, access to certain low deductible plans or even incentives and prizes. Some employers even offer to put money in an employee's medical account as an incentive. Take the time to learn everything your employer offers. You may find that you are already leaving money on the table because you have a gym membership or participate in a weight loss program that qualifies for an incentive from your employer.
Know your deadlines.
No matter what changes you may make, if any, during this year’s open enrollment period, don’t let your selection deadlines slip by without action. Doing nothing could end up costing you hundreds in 2013 in higher premium costs, lower coverage, or missed opportunities to optimize your health care dollars. Missing your open enrollment deadline will mean that you have to wait it out a full year before making changes that can help pad your bank account.