While U.S. workers may be expecting a major overhaul to their benefits plans because of the new health care reform law, most may be surprised to see few differences in what’s offered during this year’s open enrollment season, according to Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting and outsourcing company. However, some changes employees will see—including cost increases, changes to dependent coverage requirements and stricter federal rules around flexible spending account (FSA) reimbursements—will make it more important than ever for workers to take an active role in choosing their health benefits this enrollment season.
The good news is that an increasing number of workers seem to be getting the message. According to Hewitt, nearly half (45 percent) of employees actively chose their benefits for 2010 instead of defaulting into the coverage they had in the previous year—which is the highest number of active enrollees since Hewitt began tracking the data in 2003. But with health care costs projected to jump significantly next year, it’s critical that more employees follow that approach. Hewitt’s data shows that overall health care costs are expected to rise 8.8 percent in 2011, from $9,028 per employee in 2010 to $9,821 per employee in 2011. Workers will be expected to contribute 22.5 percent of the total health care premium, or $2,209. This is up 12.4 percent from 2010, when employees contributed $1,966, or 21.8 percent of the total health care premium. In total, workers are projected to spend an average of $4,386 in out-of-pocket costs and premiums in 2011, up from $3,900 in 2010.
“While health care benefits aren’t going to change drastically next year, it doesn’t mean workers have a ‘free pass’ to not participate in this open enrollment season,” explained Sara Taylor, Health & Welfare Solutions leader at Hewitt Associates. “Health care cost increases continue to outpace inflation and salary increases. Employees who take time to do their homework, weigh their choices and make smart trade-off decisions will be in the best position to make their benefits dollars stretch further this year, without having to sacrifice the quality of those benefits.”