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Archive for Thursday, October 15, 2009

Workers should weigh benefit options

October 15, 2009

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— It’s that time of year — open enrollment for your employment benefits package. One thing you need to do — open the documents when they arrive in the mail or read the information online. It’s a pain, but too many employees do nothing at all, allowing their employers to choose for them.

Only 40 percent of employees make a decision about their open enrollment choices, even if they choose to keep everything they had the year before, according to Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting and outsourcing company. But do nothing and you may end up with no health coverage, said Sara Taylor, Hewitt’s health and welfare strategy leader.

Who knows what will happen with the health care reform effort in Congress? But this we do know. Health care coverage for many workers is going to cost more in 2010.

More than four in 10 employers said they are raising deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance, according to another open enrollment survey conducted by the consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

Average health care premiums are expected to rise to $9,120 next year, up from $8,607 in 2009, according to Hewitt. Increasingly, employers are shifting more of that cost onto their employees.

If you don’t read your benefits package, you may find your employer has reduced the number of health plan options. You might have to switch physicians or pay higher out-of-network costs to keep doctors you like. Watson Wyatt found employers are also offering gift cards, cash and discounted premiums to workers and, in some cases, their spouses for undergoing a health risk assessment or participating in smoking cessation, weight management or fitness programs.

Here are some tips from Hewitt and me:

• Being trifling can cost you. Don’t assume you will be put back into the same coverage you had last year.

• Give your health plan a check-up. What you had last year might not exist in your plan this year. Also, it’s important to know which parts of your coverage worked for you or your family.

• Go over your options. “Many people spend more time shopping for a new refrigerator than they do selecting their benefits,” Taylor said.

• Consider a change. Don’t become so wedded to one plan that you don’t even investigate other options.

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