What to watch for during open enrollment

By Pamela Yip The Dallas Morning News

It’s almost time for open enrollment season to begin, as employers unveil next year’s health care options to workers.

For most of us, there won’t be major changes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our homework before choosing a plan.

“In general, most employers are not making broad changes to their plans for this year coming up,” said Craig Rosenberg, practice leader of Health and Welfare Benefits Administration at consulting firm Aon Hewitt.

However, many will see subtle changes. And if your company hasn’t yet introduced a consumer-driven health plan, you could be in for a surprise.

“Consumer-driven health plans have been around over a decade now, but a lot of workers haven’t been exposed to one,” said Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. “They may be offered it for the first time.”

Consumer-driven plans typically combine high-deductible health insurance with a tax-advantaged savings account that can be used to pay qualifying health care expenses.

According to Aon Hewitt’s 2014 Health Care survey, consumer-driven health plans are the second most popular plan choice offered by employers. At some companies, such a health plan is the only option.

Here are some other changes to watch for:

Health care costs rise

Employees will continue to bear more of the cost burden through higher premiums, deductibles and added fees to cover the spouse.

“The trend that we’re seeing here overall is that employers are increasingly subsidizing coverage,” Rosenberg said. “They’re starting to cut back on how much they’re subsidizing the portion of coverage that relates to dependents.”

Fronstin said workers will likely have to pay extra to cover their spouse or partner on the employee’s health policy.

“Most employers haven’t introduced them (spousal surcharges), so a lot of workers are going to see them for the first time,” he said.

The survey looked at more than 1,230 employers covering more than 10 million employees. If your spouse has health care coverage available through their employer, it might be good to study your options.

Look at factors, such as the deductible, whether your doctors are in the network and what you will pay for prescriptions.

Wellness plans on the rise

Among other trends is an employer-sponsored wellness program.

Employers are placing greater emphasis on health and wellness programs that encourage employees to take a more active role in managing their health.

Also, a small but growing number of employers are offering health insurance to employees through their own private health exchanges.

The exchanges are similar to the public marketplaces created by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Whatever insurance options you’re offered, look at your family’s health needs and get the coverage that best meets them.

Treat this as the big purchasing decision that it is. There are few things more important than your health.