It's that time of year again. You're getting emails from human resources talking about the upcoming Open Enrollment period. There are copies of different insurance plans and their costs available for review.
You also hear people discussing their current health insurance plans and how they want to review other programs your employer offers.
If you are a newer employee, you may be just now realizing there's only a small window of time each year to change insurance plans. That time is coming soon.
The general term for this time frame is Open Enrollment, but it is also called Annual Enrollment or Open Season.
What is Open Enrollment?
During an Open Enrollment period, employees are allowed to make changes to certain benefits for the upcoming year.
These include health insurance and other pre-tax contributions to programs such as flexible spending accounts.
Most employers offer Open Enrollment late in the calendar year.
If you haven't heard anything about it for 2020, you probably will very soon. If you don't, check with your employer to find out your Open Enrollment dates.
Federal employees have Open Season for benefits changes from November 11th – December 9th, 2020.
You can learn more about what changes and options are available to federal employees by checking out the website of the Office of Personnel Management.
They also provide a comparison tool to help employees decide what plans best meet their individual or family needs.
Open Enrollment also happens for individuals who buy health insurance plans on their state-specific health insurance exchanges.
The 2020 Open Enrollment for coverage in 2021 in many states runs from November 1st – December 15th, 2020, but some states do have longer enrollment periods.
Plans purchased during this time take effect January 1, 2021.
Be sure to double-check your state enrollment period, so you don't miss your window of time to enroll.
Medicare's 2021 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) runs from October 15th – December 7th, 2020.
Since plan coverage, network providers, and prices may change each year, it's important for those on Medicare to carefully consider options. Consider your medical needs and review Medicare enrollment materials.
You may find you've no need to make changes and sticking to your current plan makes the most sense. If you are thinking about making a change, you can find information and tools to help with your decision on the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services website.
Are There Any Exceptions to Open Enrollment Periods?
Some people can enroll in new plans throughout the year.
If you qualify for Medicaid or have kids eligible for the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), they can be enrolled throughout the year.
American Indians and Alaska Natives can also check the Healthcare.gov website to see if they qualify to enroll in new plans at any time during the year.
Others may have Qualifying Life Events (QLE) allowing for special enrollment periods throughout the year.
These may include events such as marriage, the birth of a child, or losing other health insurance coverage.
If you have questions about QLE's and how they may affect your enrollment, read more at HealthCare.gov.
What Should I Be Doing During Open Enrollment?
In 2017, AFLAC did a survey of 5,000 employees and 92% of them reported choosing the same benefits year after year.
Close to 2/3 of the group surveyed spent less than an hour researching the options they had the prior year.
Choosing the same benefits may be the right move for some people. But others may be paying more than they need to. Or they could be missing out on essential benefits.
The first thing to do is consider what your health care needs are and the coverage you desire. Then, look at the health insurance options and see what the best match is.
If the best option is too expensive for your budget, you can look at what you will be trading off to purchase a lower-cost plan.
Some people default to the cheapest option and then end up paying out of pocket for medical visits and prescriptions that may have been covered better on a more expensive plan.
Being able to pay for child care or health care with pre-tax dollars is something people often pass on. But it typically costs them money because they didn't take advantage of the benefits offered during Open Enrollment.
The most important suggestion is to ask questions about anything you don't understand. Don't be embarrassed if you don't understand terms in the health insurance packets you review.
If you have questions about how much to put in a flexible spending account, ask someone you trust and talk to someone in your human resources department.
Remember, if you have questions – many others have questions too!
The more you learn about your options for Open Enrollment, the better decisions you will make.
Open Enrollment Time
It's important for you to prepare for your Open Enrollment period.
Your job is to read and ask questions about all of the health insurance options you have.
If you're married, review all your spouse's options too and see how you can best take advantage of this marriage benefit.
Then inquire about any employee benefits that make sense to take advantage of during Open Enrollment.
Don't just assume a plan working for a family member or colleague is the right plan for you.
After you finish your research, you might not need to take any action. But you don't want to find out too late that you should have signed up for different health insurance to meet your medical needs or for other accounts that could save you money.
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.