Don't Miss This Chance to Pick a Better Health Plan
While you're caught up in watching the stock market ricochet or worrying about the current market value of your home, don't forget the mundane matter of your personal finances.
Yes, folks, it is open-enrollment season for those who are still fortunate to have a job that provides decent benefits. During open enrollment, millions of employees make decisions about their employer-provided benefits. Miss this window or fail to make the right choices and you won't get a chance to correct it until next year, unless there is a change in your personal situation, such as the birth of a child or divorce.
So, is your open-enrollment packet still sitting on your desk or the kitchen counter unopened?
It probably is, according a survey by Aetna and the Financial Planning Association. Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents said they were more worried about their finances this year because of the struggling economy. And yet the majority of people interviewed admitted they will spend an hour or less, or no time at all, reviewing their health benefit options during open enrollment.
Hewitt Associates found in its open-enrollment survey last year that the majority of workers defaulted into the plans they selected in previous years. I wonder how much their inertia cost them.
If you can set aside time to watch a sports program or "Dancing With the Stars" -- my favorite television show these days -- certainly you should also be reviewing your benefits packet. I know it's not as fun as watching actress Cloris Leachman try to tango, but hey, it's time that could save you money.
When you do review your benefit offerings, you will likely find that your employer is asking you to pay more for your benefits. It's been that way for the past several years. And so it will be for 2009, according to the benefits consulting firm Mercer.
In its annual survey of employer-sponsored health plans, Mercer found that the total cost for employees to renew their current health plans -- with no changes -- would increase by nearly 8 percent on average. People working for small employers -- firms with 500 workers or less -- would face an even higher increase of about 10 percent.
Employee cost-sharing has risen sharply over the past five years. From 2003 to 2007, the median family deductible for in-network services in preferred provider organizations, or PPOs, increased from $1,000 to $1,500, according to Mercer.
"While some employers are holding down cost growth with innovative methods of improving health-care quality and efficiency, more typically, employers struggling with increases they can't handle resort to the tried and true method of shifting cost to employees," said Blaine Bos, a senior health and benefits consultant for Mercer.
More than half of employers will cut their costs by offering heath plans that increase deductibles and co-payments.
Nineteen percent of small employers in the Mercer survey said they would lower their 2009 costs by adding a high-deductible plan that's coupled with an employee-controlled spending account. These accounts are known as health savings accounts, or HSAs. An HSA works like a savings account, but in this case, the funds you deposit are pretax and can be used only for medical expenses.