Last-Minute Open Enrollment Tips

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Open enrollment is the annual opportunity for employees to make changes to their employer-sponsored health insurance plans and other benefit programs. Unfortunately, when employees receive information concerning the enrollment period and its accompanying packet of plan options, they more often than not ignore the fine print.

“People get overwhelmed with the big packet,” says Wendy Nice Barnes, vice president of Human Resources and consumer health insurance expert at eHealthInsurance.com. “They think ‘I don’t really want to look at this’, but they should. This is not the year to go on autopilot.”

According to a survey of large companies conducted by the National Business Group on Health, 63% of employers plan to increase the percentage of health insurance premiums paid by employees in 2011. Additionally, 46% intend to increase out-of-pocket maximums and 44% will increase in-network deductibles.

Many employers are making these changes to their health care plans partially due to the poor economy, which affects profit margins and, thus, the funding available for benefits programs. However, Barnes says, the adjustments are also a byproduct of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as employers are laying the groundwork to reduce their health care costs once all provisions of the law go into effect in 2014.

Regardless of the causation, the effects mean, at the very least, anyone covered through an employer-sponsored health care plan needs to check if the terms and conditions of their existing plan are changing. Unlike Medicare open enrollment, which is heavily regulated by the government, how an employer notifies its workers of changes depends on the company and, as such, it may fall to the employee to ask the important questions on what’s changing this year.

Those who find themselves faced with higher premiums and/or deductibles may want to make actual changes to what they originally signed up for. For example, upon review, an employee may discover that their employer’s family plan now costs less than their spouse’s and want to move the kids onto the cheaper one. Or, employees may discover the opposite and want to discontinue their current health care plan entirely. 

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