It's Open Enrollment Season! Are You Prepared?

by Gerri Willis

It's that time of year again -- open enrollment. That's when companies that provide health insurance to employees announce tweaks to their plans. If you've been employed anytime at all, you know the drill. You get a complicated looking packet from your HR office and you try like heck to compare the plans. Often, you're not successful. The only thing you're likely to figure out - that your contribution to your coverage will be more than it was last year.

And, so it is this year. Despite all the promises of ObamaCare -- that it would slow health care inflation or that it would allow you to keep your plan -- the costs continue to rise and the options narrow. The average annual premium this year $15,073 for a family and $5,429 for a single person -- the family premiums are up 9 percent year over year.

And, if your premium is different -- well consider, that the numbers differ across the country!

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that my employer offers health insurance -- job-based coverage is still the most common type of health insurance in the nation, covering just shy of 60 percent of folks who aren't retired.

And, contrary to conventional wisdom, America is not the land of the uninsured. The percentage of working-age Americans with coverage is 81.5 percent.

Still, things could be better. For example, this year more than ever you are likely to be offered something called a high-deductible plan. It allows you to save money on monthly premiums -- but at a cost. If you do find yourself in need of health care, you could face a deductible of a thousand dollars or more. Typically, younger workers use these plans because they don't expect to face expensive illnesses.

But if you ask me, that's asking for trouble. Setting aside money in a tax-protected account may help you meet those bills -- just in case, you get hit by the proverbial bus.

Other changes most of us will see -- deductibles jumping 7 percent on average. And, watch out for what insurers are calling "co-insurance," that's your charge for care. Think of it as a co-pay on steroids.

Also keep your eyes peeled for changes in networks of doctors and hospitals. Some providers are making those networks smaller.

One positive here: More employers are offering incentives to workers who actively try to improve their health by say, reducing their body mass index, or signing up for cholesterol or blood pressure screening.

And, one more thing -- most workers spend less than an hour deciding what plan to go with -- if you're new to the company and even if you're not -- do yourself the favor of figuring out the details. Your health is on the line.