It may seem a long way off, but open enrollment season is only a couple of months away. Open enrollment is an important time of year where you get to choose coverage based on the needs of you and your family. It’s understandable that it can be overwhelming, especially in an age where healthcare coverage is more consumer driven.
You may be tempted to do little research and select whatever is cheapest or requires the least amount of work. This can cause gaps in coverage, opening you up to risk. Consider the following as you take time to choose from your benefits options.
A Major Purchase vs. Choosing Benefits
Making decisions during open enrollment is much like making a major purchase. You research the item you want to buy to see if it’s a good value, whether it’s going to last and to see how it compares to like items from other manufacturers. Ultimately, you want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for – which makes sense.
A 2014 study reveals that 81 percent of individuals spend an average of 79 days researching major purchases of $500 or more. This can be anything from TVs to home improvements and more. Compare that statistic to a 2011 study that reveals individuals spend only 16 minutes researching benefits options during open enrollment season.
Comparing the two statistics, it’s apparent that many place more value in getting a quality product vs. choosing the right benefits coverage. There’s likely some reasons for this, but Assistant Vice President, HR, Unum, Joanne Abate explains it best, “We’re all guilty of thinking we’re invincible. The biggest mistake we make with benefits is the failure to plan appropriately for all of life’s events – the good and the bad – and to make the right benefits decisions to cover the risks.” Just as it’s wise to take the time to research a significant purchase, it makes sense to spend the time necessary to research your benefits options and make sure you’re making the best choice for your circumstances and needs.
How to Educate Yourself on Benefits
Educating yourself is vital when you choose coverages. The landscape has changed from a largely employer-provided, one-size-fits-all benefits package to one that’s increasingly dependent on the individual. As such, choosing coverage needs to be taken from a consumer mindset.
Just as you’d do online research and ask friends about what they like and dislike about an item you’re interested in purchasing, you need to do the same with options come open enrollment season. A 2011 ADP study confirms this, reporting that 40 percent of employees don’t fully understand their benefits options.
When it comes time for open enrollment season, take the time you need to research available options. “Ideally, employees should have a least three weeks to review their benefit options and discuss them with a spouse or family member, if necessary,” says Abate.
In addition to discussing options with a spouse or family member, many companies provide educational resources to help you make decisions. In many cases, they might even provide access to benefits representatives. It’s to your advantage to use those resources.
The Risk of Not Making the Wise Decision
With the changing tide in benefits – particularly with medical coverage – it’s vital to take time to choose the best options for your situation. What your company may have offered in previous years may not be the case for the upcoming year. “…It’s important to know what your employer offers, the changes that may be coming, and what gaps might exist in your coverage. While some benefits may be paid for entirely by your employer, others may be available for you to purchase,” says Abate.
By taking the time to do the research you give yourself the ability to make the best decision for your family. Just like you want to have an adequately supplied emergency fund to help in times of need, you want to have the right coverage in place when a health emergency happens. Not doing so can put you at risk of significant out-of-pocket costs that you might have been able to avoid – which can hurt financially both in the short and long run.
It also pays to remember that you don’t have to wait until open enrollment season to make changes. If you’ve had a significant life event like marriage, divorce or the birth of a newborn, you have the right to make changes.
Deciding on what benefits to select may feel overwhelming. It may feel confusing. Take the time necessary and use the resources available to you to put yourself and your family in the best situation possible with your benefit elections.