Nov. 7, 2011 at 7:35 AM ET
By Eve Tahmincioglu
It’s open enrollment season -- that wonderful time of year when your employer hands you a packet or directs you to a website full of information about your health insurance coverage options and costs for the coming year.
Unfortunately most of you are going to just pick the same plan you had last year -- if you even are aware you have any other options.
A new survey from eHealthinsurance and Kelton Research shows that 45 percent of American workers don’t know when their company’s open enrollment period takes place and 53 percent plan to stick with their current plan.
The bad news is that most employees will be paying more for coverage next year, according to a study by HR consulting company Aon Hewitt:
Not paying some serious attention to your health insurance options during open enrollment may end up hitting your wallet hard next year, not to mention potentially impacting your medical care if provider networks or drug coverage are not what you expect.
In fact, the findings of a recent Aflac study show that many of you regret not putting in the health insurance homework:
“Far too many American workers are making avoidable mistakes in benefits coverage decisions, from not meeting deductible amounts to contributing too little to flexible spending accounts, and, as a result of their lack of understanding or confusion, they often pay a price in multiple ways,” said Audrey Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac.
There will be many changes next year to corporate medical plans, and at the top of the list is cost.
A recent survey of large employers by the National Business Group on Health, a corporate health benefits association, found that 53 percent of those polled plan to increase employee premium contributions, while 39 percent plan to increase in-network deductibles. About 25 percent plan to increase out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.
Other changes to look out for, according to a Towers Watson study, include the following:
“We’ve seen a lot of employers looking at other ways to possibly shift costs and save money,” said Kristen Stagaman, a principal with Mercer’s U.S. health and benefit business.
Over one-third of employers, she said, are going to raise contributions for family coverage. That means couples should compare plan costs from their different employers to see which one is the best deal.
She also suggests workers look at options beyond traditional plans offered, such as health savings accounts, flexible savings accounts and high-deductible plans.
“Take the time to really evaluate what your expenses have been and see if there’s a better choice for you in your employer’s plan, or your spouse’s plan, that may lower your overall cost,” she said.
Nancy Sansom of Benefitfocus, which provides technology and services for the health care benefits market, suggests employees ask whether they expect medical costs to increase or decrease this year: "Do you have any planned outpatient surgeries, or are you adding a new member to your family?”
She also suggested considering optional benefits such as critical illness, accident or hospital indemnity plans.
“These benefits can supplement your medical plan and often have a low employee premium cost,” Sansom explained.
It’s all about thinking before you just re-enroll. It could save you a lot of time, money and aggravation.