NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While some consumers wait anxiously for the annual health care open enrollment period, other Americans are in a rush to choose benefits despite its lasting consequences.
Many employees simply skim over the material and fail to conduct any research on their health care benefits. It turns out that 41% of employees spent 15 minutes or less researching their benefit options during the 2013 open enrollment season and 24% spent five minutes or less, according to a survey by Aflac, the Columbus, Ga. voluntary insurance company.
In comparison, Americans spend an average of 10 hours researching the purchase of a new car, four hours shopping for computers and at least two deciding what television to buy.
The opportunity for employees to change and choose the insurance plan they will use for the next year starts Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15.
Employees need to spend more time to review their health care options carefully and should consider it as part of their entire financial plan, says Michael Zuna, Aflac's chief marketing officer.
"We need to spend more time, especially in the changing health care environment," he said. "Now more than ever, [health care buyers] need to take the time to understand the details."
Instead of viewing open enrollment as a chore, employees should see this as a "big opportunity to save more money in their health plan," Zuna says. By picking the appropriate plan, consumers can minimize risk and save money by avoiding duplicating their coverage, since 42% of people waste $750 on mistakes on their health plan. Some consumers will add vision coverage when it is already covered by their major medical plan.
Only 73% of workers said they sometimes understand everything covered by their policy, while 90% of workers are "auto-enrolling" or keeping the same benefits year after year without knowing why. More than six out of 10 workers admit to sometimes, rarely or never understanding changes in their coverage.
Employees are paying an average of $4,565 a year in premiums for an employer-sponsored health plan and need to understand what options they are choosing, Zuna says.
Selecting the lowest monthly premium may appear to look great for your wallet, but many people are not prepared when they are hit with a hefty deductible or can't afford to pay it, he said.
"It should be about balancing an acceptable amount of risk and what you are prepared to pay," Zuna says.
People who get health insurance through an employer may think health reform doesn't affect them, says Carrie McLean, director of customer care at eHealth.com, an online health insurance exchange in Mountain View, Calif. Employees should reconsider and pay close attention to the coverage they're being offered when open enrollment comes around this fall.
Group health insurance plans typically provide great benefits, and while that is not likely to change, the amount of coverage has been on the rise for years. Since more employers are passing those costs onto workers in the form of higher monthly premiums and deductibles, check to see if your premium contributions are going up for 2015, she says.
“Pay close attention to the amount of money that will be taken from your paycheck to cover your spouse and children on your employer-based plan,” McLean says. “If your contributions are getting too pricey, look at your other options in the self-purchased health insurance market.”
Whether you buy coverage on your own or get it through an employer, reviewing coverage options each year is a good idea. Unless you move, get married or divorced or have a child, you can't switch your insurance plan once it begins.
“If you’re offered employer-based health insurance but find that you can no longer afford it for yourself or for your dependents, work with a licensed health insurance agent or online marketplace to see what other coverage choices may be available for you,” she said.
— Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet