Many employers offer their workers all kinds of insurance benefits. Health or medical, dental and vision are just a few examples. Usually, the employers pay the lion's share of the costs of the benefits, and the employees pay the rest through payroll deductions. Employers get good rates on these insurance coverages because they're part of group plan or group rate. The employees get to share in these savings, too. Some employees take advantage of these coverage, while others don't.

Your choices aren't set in stone, though. During "open enrollment," most employers give their employees the chance to change their coverage options.

What Is It?

Like most of us, when you were hired, you were given the chance to get insurance coverage through your employer. You either signed up for something or you didn't. Open enrollment is a certain period of time where the employer lets you change your mind, or change your insurance "elections." The types of insurance coverage vary from employer to employer, but generally, during open enrollment you probably see all or some these coverages:

  • Medical or health. This may include giving you more than one insurance plan to choose from, as well the option of opening a flexible spending account (FSA), which lets you save money, tax free, to use later to pay medical bills
  • Dental. This typically provides coverage for everything from regular check-ups to braces for your child
  • Vision. This typically helps pay for glasses, contacts and regular eye examinations.
  • Life. This usually includes coverage options for your spouse and children
  • Accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D). This provides benefits if you're killed or lose a limb in some sort of an accident, like a car wreck
  • Short term and long term disability. This is insurance that pays you all or part of your wages if you're unable to work because of injury or illness
  • Supplementary insurance, which is when you have the chance to increase coverage that your employer pays for. For example, some employers pay 100% of life insurance premiums for their workers, say for $50,000 of coverage. If you want $100,000 of coverage, you may be able to get that extra $50,000 of coverage, but you'll have to pay for it

During open enrollment, you may pick-up coverage you don't have already, drop coverage you no longer want or need, or change plans, such as changing to a less-expensive medical plan.

When Is It?

Many companies offer open enrollment only once per year. Rather than making many changes to insurance coverages for individual workers throughout the year, it's easier to make them all at once for all employees. And you may not have much time to waste. Typically, open enrollment takes place in October, and you may only have a couple of weeks to make your elections. Your human resources department will let you know when open enrollment begins and ends.

Choose Wisely

In most cases, this is the one time during the year that you can change your insurance coverage. Once open enrollment is closed, you'll have to live with your choices. So if you choose not to enroll in any coverage, or if you keep the same coverage, you'll have to wait until next year to change your options. In other words, make your changes now or be stuck with (or without) your current coverage.

There are some exceptions, though. If you have a "qualifying event" or "life event," you may be able to change your insurance benefits. These events include:

  • Getting married
  • Having a baby
  • Adopting a child
  • Getting divorced, and
  • The death of a spouse or child

If you have one these events, you should contact your human resources office as soon as possible.

Insurance costs, especially medical and health coverage, are all the news today. You don't have to be told that insurance is expensive, and it's not always easy to get. During open enrollment, take some time to think about the needs of you and your family and ask yourself if there's some coverage you either need or no longer need. Look at your personal budget and see if you can afford more coverage, or if you'd be better off by dropping some coverage. Don't make hasty decisions, though. If you make the wrong choice, you may have to wait some time before you can set things straight.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is my company required to offer open enrollment?
  • I didn't enroll in my employer's medical coverage because I was covered by my wife's insurance, which she got through her job. She recently lost her job. Is that a qualifying event that allows me to change my insurance election?
  • My husband recently died, and his employer is going to pay his ex-wife the insurance proceeds from his life insurance policy because he never changed the beneficiary from her to me. Is there anything I can do?

Tagged as: Labor and Employment, Employee Benefits, open enrollment, work benefits