If you’re employed and your benefits package includes health insurance, you’re likely smack dab in the middle of the season known as Open Enrollment. It’s that annual time when you make big, life-impacting decisions about health care, and it can be daunting. University of Rochester benefits expert Scott Latshaw offers tips to help you make the most of this opportunity.
- Get the facts: When does open enrollment begin at your employer? What is the deadline? Be on the lookout for mail from your employer’s Benefits Office and read it promptly. Most employers have strict deadlines for open enrollment. Don’t give up your right to learn all that’s offered to you and make your own decisions. Even if you don’t want to change anything from the previous year, it’s a good time to review what you’ve got.
- Paint your picture: Get a good sense of your current health situation (and your family’s, if they’re covered by your plan). Then try to envision the year ahead and life or family changes that might impact your health care coverage decisions. Are you relatively healthy? Do you have any chronic conditions? Do you have dependents who need coverage, kids heading to college, or adult children who no longer need your plan? Will you be moving or changing jobs?
- Understand what’s offered: Take time to read and study your benefits package and consider attending any information sessions or counseling opportunities your employer offers. Benefits staff—usually part of your employer’s Human Resources team—can help you get a grasp on what various plans cover, how they work, and what they cost. Check out opportunities to talk with staff from the various insurance plans that are offered. These folks are there to help guide you so take advantage of it when you can. Some organizations even offer helpful online tools that let you model your plan elections prior to committing to them.
- Know your network: Doctors and other medical professionals are part of provider networks that contract with various health care plans. If you have a doctor and you want to continue that relationship, be sure he or she is part of a network linked to the health plan you choose. It may cost you more out-of-pocket to get care from providers who aren’t in your network. If you don’t have a doctor yet, it’s wise to look over each plan’s provider network to be sure you choose a plan that includes providers you’d want to see.
- Do the math: Most people pay at least a portion of the cost of their health plans. This includes a monthly fee, called a premium, as well as out-of-pocket expenses like copays for doctor visits and prescriptions. Many plans have annual deductibles and they can vary widely, based on the plan. To help project your costs in the coming year, it’s a good idea to look back at what you paid in the previous year. This gives you a basis from which to make choices, factoring in your anticipated financial situation for the year ahead.
- Max out the tax savings: Programs like Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) allow you to set aside income for health care expenses before it’s taxed. Plans vary in terms of who is eligible and what types of expenses you can pay with those funds but it’s worth looking into. Your annual cost savings could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on your situation. If you’re new to these programs, you can always start conservatively, setting a small amount aside each month to see how it makes a difference for you. Allocations to HSA accounts can be adjusted any time, while FSA allocations can be changed every year at open enrollment.
- Look beyond the health plan: Open enrollment decisions may also include options for dental or vision care, disability insurance and life insurance. Make the most of what’s offered in your benefits package. It’s also a good time to review your retirement package as well as any voluntary benefits that are offered.
Open enrollment is a great time to review at all of the benefits that are available to you and get a good picture of how your benefit dollars are being spent. After all, you’re earning them!
Need a doctor? To find a primary care provider who is accepting new patients, please contact us at (585) 784-8891, or toll-free at 1-888-661-6162.
Scott Latshaw is director of University Benefits at the University of Rochester.