By avoiding certain open enrollment blunders, consumers may prevent themselves from going uninsured or getting stuck with a health insurance plan that is not the best match for their needs.
Open enrollment is the time when businesses ask employees to make health insurance choices and other benefit selections for the coming year. Open enrollment can occur at different times for different businesses, but many are offering open enrollment for the 2012 benefit year between October and December 2011.
Missing an 'active' open enrollment
During most enrollment periods you're able to do nothing and simply stick with your current plan. However, you may have what's called an "active" (or "hard") enrollment. These typically occur when your employer has made substantial changes to their benefit offerings. During an active enrollment you're required to make a health insurance choice or else lose your coverage entirely.
If you forget to turn in your benefit election forms during an active enrollment and then go to see the doctor in the new year, you'll discover that you have no coverage in effect and will be personally responsible for all your medical bills. You may not be able to re-enroll in employer-based coverage until the following year.
Not catching benefit changes
Employers really are facing increased health insurance costs. One of the first ways they often try to compensate is by downsizing the benefits and coverage levels for the health plans they offer to employees.
This could take the form of slashed prescription drug coverage, for example. Or, employers may opt to drop maternity coverage (in states where that's allowed) or increase the employee's share of costs for maternity care.
If the benefits you value most are being cut from your current plan during open enrollment, explore other options. Many employers offer more than one health insurance plan for workers to choose from.
Missing decreases in employer contributions for dependent coverage
Another way employers may try to address increased costs is by dropping the amount they contribute toward the coverage of dependents. Unlike contributions for employee coverage (which are generally required to be at least 50 percent of the employee's total monthly premium), there are usually no minimum contribution requirements when it comes to dependents.
So don't re-enroll dependents for coverage under your employer plan until you understand how much of their coverage you'll be paying for yourself. You may have more affordable options under a spouse's plan or in the individually-purchased health insurance market.
Overlooking individually purchased options
If you find that it's no longer affordable to insure yourself or your dependents on an employer-based plan, or that the coverage offered no longer meets your needs, make sure to check your options in the individual and family market.
Work with a licensed agent that represents a broad selection of carriers to see what's available in your area. You may be able to save money with an individual or family plan that still meets your coverage needs.
Just remember that, unlike employer-based coverage, it's possible to be declined for individually purchased plans based on your personal medical history or current health status.