The health insurance open enrollment period (OEP) for 2022 begins November 1, 2021, and ends December 15, 2021.
If you work for a company that offers group health insurance and other employee benefits, the annual open enrollment period will likely be coming up soon. It’s a great time to look at the past year and evaluate how often you used your health insurance, what your total medical expenses were, how much you paid out-of-pocket versus how much your insurer paid, and if you found the coverage met your needs when you used it.
This article will be a good primer if this will be your first open enrollment period and will also serve as a good refresher if you’ve participated before. If you’re currently searching for your first job with group benefits, you’ll know the what, why, how, and when of open enrollment.
What is open enrollment?
Open enrollment is the period of time that employees can enroll in benefits for the first time, make changes to their current plans, change coverage amounts, or drop their coverage altogether.
Open enrollment is significant because it’s a time when you manage your well-deserved benefits (also known as your “hidden paycheck”). You only get one chance per year to get it right (with a few exceptions), so it’s wise to be prepared and spend time carefully considering your options.
We mentioned there are a few exceptions concerning when you have the chance to enroll, confirm, or change benefits. Those exceptions are called “qualifying events,” and there are three of them:
- Loss of health insurance coverage: This can occur when you lose a job through which you had employer-sponsored coverage, you lose eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid, or when you have your 26th birthday and you lose coverage as a dependent on your parent’s plan.
- Changes in household: Certain major life events meet the criteria to be considered a qualifying event, including marriage, divorce, having a child (birth or adoption), or suffering a death in your family.
- Changes in residence: If you move to a new county or zip code, that will generally meet the definition of a qualifying event.
Be sure to read, and save, the information provided by your employer and insurer to have the facts about how they define qualifying events. It can vary from insurer to insurer.
Why do companies have open enrollment?
Companies have open enrollment because newer employees need the opportunity to participate in the company’s benefits, and there are often changes to the benefits themselves, particularly the group health insurance benefit.
Coverage can change from year to year to your health insurance coverage. To combat rising premiums, employers will often raise deductibles, and co-pays for doctor and hospital visits. This can be painful to employees who use their coverage frequently throughout the year, particularly if children are being covered.
The cost of coverage can also change annually. We’ve all read about the continual increases in the price of healthcare, prescription drugs, and health insurance premiums that happen just about every year. It’s not uncommon for employees to make plan changes to combat those increases, like selecting a higher deductible or changing their coverage entirely, such as going from a PPO plan to an HMO plan.
The open enrollment period also allows couples to compare their plans if they work for different employers. Based on coverage and costs, it may be better for a couple to each enroll in their own employer’s plan, rather than both be on the same plan or vice-versa. That can change from year to year.
Open enrollment gives employers the chance to add or drop employee benefits (hopefully add). For example, a company that has experienced a very profitable year might add dental coverage or an employer match to the company 401(k) plan. Conversely, a company underperforming in a given year could drop the percentage they’re paying for employee benefits, which would significantly affect their employee’s choices during open enrollment.
[ Related read: HMO vs PPO: What's the difference & which is better? ]
How to get the most out of open enrollment
If you get it wrong during open enrollment, you’ll have to wait a year to make it right. Selecting the wrong plan by checking the wrong box can cost you more in premiums and the number and type of claims paid, which can add up over 12 months.
Here are three things you want to make sure you do when the time comes to make your choices.
Read everything you get about your open enrollment
You’ll be getting plenty of emails and website portal access to view documents outlining your options before you make your selections.
Most people don’t take the time to read what they’ve been sent concerning their benefits and open enrollment. Some people have even been known to entirely miss out on their chance to enroll in or make changes to their insurance plans because they didn’t read the provided information. It’s not going to be the most exciting reading you’ll ever do, but doing it anyway will help you make smart choices during your open enrollment.
Attend benefit meetings
Your Human Resources department, in conjunction with your insurer, will be holding meetings to explain your benefit choices, review how they’ve changed from the previous year, and confirm the final enrollment date. You’ll normally have the chance to choose from several different times they’ll be holding these meetings, so be sure to select one and put it on your calendar.
If something isn’t clear to you when you’re reviewing your documents or attending a meeting, be sure to speak up and ask for clarification. The chances are good that other employees will have the same question(s). You don’t want to make the wrong choices because you didn’t raise your hand when you had the chance.
Review all benefits during annual open enrollment
Health insurance is the benefit people zero in on during open enrollment, sometimes neglecting to review the other benefits they get through their employer.
Disability insurance, life insurance, supplemental plans like critical care insurance or cancer insurance are all vital to your financial well-being, so take the time to look again carefully at your options.
If your health insurance premiums jumped significantly from last year, you might want to extend the elimination period with your disability insurance or drop a rider on your group life plan. A change in one plan can affect your other plans, so use open enrollment as the opportunity to review all of your benefits.
Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.
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