An Early Look at Open Enrollment

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's almost that time again -- open enrollment season.

If you're fortunate enough to work for an employer who provides a benefits package, you've got some decisions to make soon.

Do you change your medical plan? Should you sign up for prepaid legal services? Is it time yet to get long-term care insurance? Should you get disability insurance?

My husband and I were speaking at my church recently, giving couples tips on how to manage their money, when one man stood up and spoke for many of us. He was confused by the many choices.

"How do you know what to get?" he asked. "It feels like after all that I pay for, I have two dollars left in my paycheck."

I understood his frustration. But those of us who have these choices to make during open enrollment should feel blessed. A decrease in employer-based health insurance has contributed to a rise in the number of uninsured. The percentage of people covered by on-the-job insurance decreased to 59.7 percent in 2006 from 60.2 percent in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest figures.

The Census Bureau reported last month that the number of people without health coverage increased to 47 million from 44.8 million during the period.

So for those of us who will receive a benefits packet, what can we expect this year?

Well, in an effort to cut costs, your employer may be offering financial incentives or penalties for certain healthful or unhealthful behaviors, according to Watson Wyatt, a consulting firm that works with large employers on their open-enrollment programs.

Pay special attention when you get your benefits packet because your employer may have expanded or changed what was offered during open enrollment last year, said Tom Billet, a senior consultant with Watson Wyatt.

"A lot of people make the mistake of assuming whatever choice they made last year is a good choice for this coming year," Billet said.

Here are some of the major trends Wyatt has identified for this year:

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