Originally posted on http://ebn.benefitnews.com.
As open enrollment season approaches, benefit managers are moving into high gear as they prepare to answer employee questions and concerns about their 2015 benefits. And as employees take on more responsibility for their health care, it’s more important than ever for them to understand how they can make the most of the programs and benefits their employers are offering.
Here are eight tips from benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt that benefit managers can share with employees to help ensure open enrollment runs smoothly.
Employers are taking steps to make enrollment quicker and easier. “Many companies are designing the process so it is similar to an online retail shopping experience, where employees can access decision support tools and other resources that can help them narrow down their choices and weigh them against their specific needs,” says Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. “Employers are also stepping up their efforts to clearly communicate what is changing from previous years, using a variety of communication methods.” Encourage employees to take advantage of the resources you provide.
Understanding their past needs and estimating their future needs will help employees determine what adjustments they may need to make in their benefits selections for 2015. Encourage employees to start by reviewing how much they’ve spent in the past year out-of-pocket, the costs of their regular prescriptions and the number of doctor visits they’ve had. If they are participating in a flexible spending account, encourage them to re-evaluate their contribution levels based on their actual and anticipated expenses for 2015. It’s also important to think about any life changes that may impact their decisions, such as an addition to the family or the development of a new medical condition that may impact health care expenses.
Over the past few years, there have been many changes taking place in the provider community, including doctor’s groups joining together and hospitals and health systems re-contracting with insurers. As a result, health plan options may include vastly different combinations of doctors and hospitals than in the past. Most employers and health plans offer a number of tools and resources that can help employees assess the cost impact and quality of different providers as they make their enrollment decisions.
CDHPs often have lower premiums, which make them an attractive option for individuals who want to reduce the costs taken out of their paychecks each month. While employees may have a higher deductible to meet, many employers couple these plans with health reimbursement accounts or health savings accounts, which employees can use to help pay for eligible out-of-pocket health care costs. HSAs are the most common, and allow employees to save money by contributing, on a pre-tax basis, up to $3,350 in 2015 or $6,650 if they have family coverage, with no use-it-or-lose-it rule. In addition, employers may also contribute to the HSA. It’s important for employees to understand how the employer’s contributions work so they can maximize this subsidy.
If an employee’s spouse, partner or adult children have access to health coverage elsewhere, including through their employer, it may be more cost effective for them to enroll in this coverage instead of being covered by you. Encourage employees to carefully review and compare these plans to ensure they are choosing the coverage they need at the most favorable cost.
Many employers offer a wide range of health and wellness programs, such as health assessments, weight loss programs and health coaching, to help employees get and stay healthy. Taking part in these programs can help employees understand their current health status, and they might even be able to take advantage of a financial incentive for doing so.
2015 will be the second year of coverage available to Americans through the marketplaces, commonly referred to as “public exchanges.” In most cases, individuals with coverage through their employer will not be eligible for federal tax credits for purchase of insurance through the marketplaces. Employees can visit healthcare.gov to learn more about the marketplaces.
As employees assess their health plan options for 2015, it’s important for them to look holistically at their health and financial well-being, including health care, income protection (e.g., life and disability insurance) and retirement planning. Does their spending reflect their needs and priorities? For example, if they aren’t contributing to your 401(k) plan, remind them that now might be a good time to start. Beginning to save earlier in their careers will help ensure they’re on track to meet their long-term savings goals.