Choosing the right health insurance plan can have a major impact on your physical and financial health, but too many of us don’t spend enough time on the decision during open enrollment season.
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According to a recent study by insurance company Aflac, close to half of workers spend less than 15 minutes researching their benefits and 24% only dedicated five minutes.
What’s more, 90% of survey respondents are keeping the same benefits each year and 42% of workers waste as much as $750 each on mistakes with insurance benefits.
“Choosing health-care coverage is one of the most important decisions people will make this year. Therefore, it’s essential for consumers to fully understand their options during open enrollment so they can choose a plan that is best for them and their families,” says Tom Paul, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare. “In many cases, people who spend time reviewing their health plan options can find ways to save money on their health-care costs.”
Even if you are happy with your current coverage, experts recommend reviewing how you’ve used your plan over the last year, how much money you spent and estimate future health-care needs. For instance, are you planning on having a baby or need a surgery in the new year? These answers will help determine what to look for when evaluating plans, says Paul.
You also want to have a clear idea of what you can afford. The premium shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor when choosing a plan. The high-deductible plan may be tempting with lower monthly premiums, but if something goes wrong, it’s important you can afford the deducible.
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“You can have a deductible as low as $1,500 and also have it high as $5,000,” says Tom Pegues, founder of GoodScout, an online health insurance marketplace. “If you have a deductible of $5,000 it could put your out-of-pocket costs as high as $10,000.”
If you work for an employer and won’t be shopping on a state or the federal exchange, Matthew Owenby, vice president of human resources at Aflac, says it still behooves you to study your company’s open enrollment guide. Benefits change year to year, so be sure to compare the new plans versus your existing one.
It’s also a good idea to remember your family’s needs will change over the year and what was important this year may not matter as much next year. “One of the biggest mistakes people make during open enrollment is not understanding changes in their plans year to year,” says Owenby. “According to Aflac’s study, more than 6 out of 10 workers (64%) sometimes, rarely or never understand changes in their coverage. If your benefits come through your employer, review the options carefully to make sure you understand how they’ve changed since the previous year.”
People who are buying insurance as an individual and are happy with their current plan also have to do some homework before choosing the same plan again. According to Pegues, several insurance companies are raising the rates—some as high as 30%. He says if you are happy with your plan, call the insurance carrier and see if it intends to raise the rates before renewing.
You also want to use open enrollment season to review and/or get coverage for things not covered in typical health insurance plans, like dental and vision. Joe Donlan, president and co-founder of ConnectedHealth, suggests looking for health plans that have other products that will fill coverage gaps. “People can get in serious financial distress making poor health plan choices,” says Donlan. “It’s really important to take a holistic approach.”