Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment

November 26, 2011
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It’s currently late November, the time of year when many people are faced with open enrollment at their jobs. While some organizations hold open enrollment at different times of year -in higher education, for example, it commonly falls in late spring for a June 1 or July 1 effective date because of the fiscal year – this is the most usual time frame. You might simply keep your same selections year after year, but sometimes you’re faced with a change in the benefits offered, a big change in your life situation, or some combination of factors that leads you to reevaluate your options.

Employers who offer most types of benefit plans are required to provide an opportunity for employees to periodically change their elections. The specifics of which plans fall under this requirement can vary with each employer, depending on how each is structured and funded, but some common plans that will allow changes include

  • Medical insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Vision insurance (where not built into the medical plan)
  • Prescription insurance (where not built into the medical plan)
  • Supplemental life insurance
  • Disability plans
  • Vacation buy/sell plans
  • Flexible spending accounts

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Even if you have only a couple of options to choose from, based on my experience working with employees, it can be an overwhelming process trying to decide what to elect for the coming year. What if you make the wrong choice? What might the costs in dollars or unsatisfactory medical care be? The decision gets even more complicated if you have a spouse who also has access to insurance, particularly if you have children to cover.  The dollar costs might be obvious, but what about knowing which is the right plan?

Some organizations have the resources to handhold their employees through the process, exploring their individuals needs and situations. At my current position, we are at a nice size to be able to do just this: big enough to have enough staff in Human Resources but not so big that our employees can’t get access to us. But other employers take a much more hands-off approach, often through necessity, relying instead on information websites, third-party enrollment administrators reached through telephone help lines, and printed handouts.

In my next few posts, I hope to provide some guidance in how to interpret the materials your employer has provided and how to break down the different factors you should consider in choosing from among your options.