10 items for every employee’s open enrollment checklist

Woman checks benefits with child Woman checks benefits with child Woman checks benefits with child Woman checks benefits with child

Key takeaways

A little preparation can help employees feel more confident in the choices they make this enrollment season. 

Open enrollment is just around the corner for most. To make sure you’re prepared to select the benefits package that works for you, pay attention to these ten items before you make your choices:

Make sure you’re familiar with basic health plan terminology.
Employees are, in general, still relying on less-than-ideal resources for information about their benefits.

More than one-third (35%) taught themselves about terms and processes by going online or reading other materials. And almost half (46%) reached out to friends, family, and coworkers—who are unlikely to be benefits experts.

For example, know the difference between a premium and a deductible, a copay and coinsurance, and in-network vs. out-of-network care. Understanding these terms and how they affect your health plan can have a huge impact on your out-of-pocket costs during the year.

If you’re not sure, consult a healthcare glossary of terms or ask your company’s HR or Benefits team for clarification. Don’t pick the wrong plan because you were lost in the sea of terms!

Review your current elections.
If you currently have a health plan, what does your coverage look like? Were you happy with your coverage and were you able to get the care you needed? Are you comfortable with your total benefits package—health care, disability and life, or other benefits? When was the last time you checked your listed beneficiaries for your life insurance and retirement plans? Do you feel like anything is missing?

Consider major lifestyle changes that will affect your decisions.
This can include changes in the past year or changes that will occur soon. For example, you might have gotten married or had a child in the past year, or plan to do so soon. This also includes changes to your health (or that of a covered family member), such as a new medical diagnosis or a maintenance medication prescription. If your family has grown, for example, you might want to increase your life insurance coverage or add a voluntary benefit to protect our family’s financial security.

Review the benefits material you received from your employer
While not the most riveting way to spend your day, it’s important to read over any materials your employer gives you, including summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs), summary plan descriptions (SPDs), enrollment guides, and brochures.

These tools can be great resources and will highlight any new options or changes to the enrollment process you need to be aware of. If there are any meetings or benefits fairs hosted on-site or online, attend them to maximize how much you understand about your benefits options.

Seek help.
Only 15% of employees meet with benefits experts, which means they may be missing out on important information. Don’t try to be a hero and figure out everything on your own. Benefits can be confusing! If your employer offers enrollment support, take advantage of it.

Ask about voluntary benefits.
Sixty-three percent of employees say they’re likely to participate in voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits, sometimes referred to a supplemental insurance, provide valuable coverage that help protect employees from the unexpected costs of covered illnesses, injuries, and hospital stays.

Dental or vision coverage, financial counseling, disability protection, or even pet insurance are all examples of voluntary benefits.

More employers are offering these to round out the support they can provide to employees. You pay the full cost, but rates are far less than if you bought them on your own. Ask and see what’s available at your workplace.

Do the math.
Choosing a plan purely based on how much it costs per paycheck may cost you more money in the long run.

To help, list out all your medical costs for the previous year, including doctor’s visits and prescription drug copays, coinsurance, your deductible, and your premiums. Look at how each option available to you covers those same expenses. You may be surprised at which plan will cost you less.

Don’t forget the tax breaks.
Your employer may have one or more reimbursement plans available to you—such as a health savings account (HSA), healthcare flexible spending account (HCFSA) or dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA). These plans let you set aside money to cover eligible health or dependent care expenses before taxes are taken out—which means your income is reduced for income tax purposes. And, your employer may contribute funds to your account! You can use funds in your HSA or HCFSA to cover expenses such as copayments and deductibles, qualified prescription drugs, and medical devices.

Assess whether to stay on your parent’s plan or not (if you’re under 26).
If you’re under the age of 26 and currently enrolled as a dependent on your parent’s plan, this may be an option for you, but make sure it’s the best choice financially. If you don’t live near your parents, you may end up paying out-of-network costs when you need care, which can really add up.

Consult your spouse or partner
Talk to your spouse or partner if you’re in a relationship. If they have coverage through their own employer, compare plans and see which is the better fit in terms of coverage and/or cost.  (But check to make sure there isn’t a “spousal surcharge” or other penalty.)

Today’s benefits are a huge portion of your total compensation package, and can have a tremendous impact on your health, wealth, and overall well-being. Investing some time before open enrollment begins to make sure you know what’s available to you and whether those choices make sense for you and your family is an investment that can truly pay off.