What to Know About Open Enrollment

While we may not realize it, most of us have just one chance a year to select from a variety of health insurance plans to cover a good portion of our medical expenses for the next 12 months. Depending on our needs—and those of our families—there are thousands of dollars on the line. And making an incorrect choice can cost you.

Why is that? If you sign up for a top-tier plan and rarely get sick, you could be paying for benefits you and your family may not need. At the same time, you don’t want to underestimate your expenses. So if you have one or more chronic health conditions (or are planning for a big life event such as starting a family) and opt for a low-level plan in 2024, your monthly out-of-pocket costs could bust your budget. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence.

  • Some 43% of working adults didn’t have enough health insurance in 2022, according to a survey from The Commonwealth Fund.
  • Of that group, 9% were uninsured, while 11% had at least one gap in coverage during the year.
  • Another 23% “were insured all year but were underinsured, meaning that their coverage didn’t provide them with affordable access to health care,” notes the survey.

Don’t Set It and Forget It

So, before you delete the annual benefits email from HR, or toss out the big envelope detailing your health insurance options, think about how much is riding on your decision. Yes, it can seem daunting. So take a deep breath and set aside an hour or so to go over your choices.

Look to the Past

When considering your plan options, think about your medical history (and anyone else covered by the policy) and how often you see physicians, including dentists and eye doctors. Based on what you spent during the last year or two, try and match that usage to a plan that best meets your personal needs.

November is Right Around the Corner

Fortunately, you still have a little time to do your homework. For those not enrolled in Medicare (where open enrollment spans from October 15 to December 7), the open enrollment period varies. It usually happens sometime between Nov. 1 to Jan. 15 in most states. If your employer offers benefits beyond health insurance, make sure to open your emails (and regular mail) to learn all you can about the additional coverage available to you.

Marketplace Calculations

For those who are looking at healthcare options through the health insurance marketplace, there are some helpful online tools out there to help make your decision a little easier. KFF.org offers an online health insurance marketplace calculator where you can plug in some information to get premium estimates and subsidy guides from the privacy of your laptop.

Don’t Forget About Other Forms of Protection

Remember, even if you live on the bright side, you still need to plan for tough times, including job loss, or an injury that keeps you from working for six weeks or six months or longer. While health insurance is non-negotiable, it’s not the only protection you need. Consider adding these when re-evaluating your health insurance:

  • Life Insurance: No one wants to think about their death, but if others rely on your income, you should make sure you have some life insurance that will help your loved ones pay for everything from funeral expenses to a mortgage and even educational costs, depending on your policy. One popular choice is term life insurance because it’s typically affordable and offers protection for a specified amount of time such as 20 or 30 years. Here’s a life insurance calculator to help determine how much coverage you may need.
  • Disability Coverage: Statistically, the chance of a middle-aged person becoming disabled is greater than dying during those prime working years. That’s why it’s important to consider long-term and short-term disability insurance. Anyone who works should maintain disability insurance if it’s not already provided by an employer. With this form of protection, make sure the policy is paid for with after-tax dollars. That way, you won’t have to pay more (in taxes) on the money if you need it.

Article distributed in partnership with SavvyMoney with reporting by Jean Chatzky and Casandra Andrews.

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