- Open enrollment is a significant period for employees, allowing them to select or change their benefits, including health insurance, legal aid options, and dental care. The enrollment period typically begins around November 1st and ends around December 15th, with coverage starting in January.
- During the open enrollment period, employees should pay close attention to whether their health plan covers COVID-19 testing, and if it extends to immediate family members. It's also crucial to find out if the plan supports telemedicine for remote appointments, reducing the need to visit crowded clinics or hospitals.
- Employees should also check if their healthcare benefits include wellness resources, such as meditation spaces, free flu vaccines, and paid time off. Some employers offer a wellness portal where employees can complete healthcare-related tasks for insurance deductions.
- Open enrollment is also the time to decide between a Health Savings Account (HSA) and a Flexible Savings Account (FSA). Both allow pre-tax salary deductions for medical costs, but an HSA rolls over each year, while an FSA does not.
Open Enrollment Season
Open enrollment is undoubtedly one of the most critical times of the year for those in employment. Why? Simply put, it’s a period when employees can change and choose various benefits available through employers.
For example, you might change your health insurance plan, select new legal aid options, or sign up for dental care. An employer fully covers some benefits, you most likely contribute something each month out of your paycheck, and others have a shared cost between you and your employer.
The benefits and costs vary between employers, so you’ll need to check what options are open to you. However, it’s best not to take too long sorting out your benefits as the open enrollment period usually begins sometime around November 1st and ends on or around December 15th. Your coverage then would usually start in January 2021.
Bear in mind that some employers might not follow this timetable, though; many employers only run open enrollment for a couple of weeks.
We’re still very much in the middle of a global pandemic, but closer to home, plenty of people are rightfully worried about what kind of impact it’s having on their health insurance. Open enrollment is the perfect time to find out if or how it’s affected. To help you out, here are four essential things to keep in mind.
4 Things to Pay Close Attention to as You’re Considering Your Health Care Plans During Open Enrollment
None of us want to consider the possibility that we’ll contract COVID-19, the coronavirus. However, the unfortunate fact is most of us probably already know someone who has or had it. Maybe it’s a family member in another state or your pet-sitter. The point is, everyone is susceptible.
Now that’s scary, we know, especially since it can be fatal. The good news is plenty of people have recovered from it. However, the best chance anyone stands for combating coronavirus until a vaccine’s available is to get tested.
That’s why it’s of vital importance that you ask if your health plan covers COVID testing. Perhaps your insurance covers the cost, or at the very least gives you access to clinics that do it. If you’re fortunate, your health insurance will also cover COVID testing for your immediate family. Finally, find out if it’s possible to get a doctor that makes house calls.
2. Telemedicine Coverage
That last point is especially important, given the need for social distancing. No one wants to travel to, then wait, in a potentially crowded clinic or hospital unless they have to. Telemed coverage also helps in this regard.
It means you have a remote appointment with a medical professional, for example, over Zoom or Skype. Not every healthcare plan offers it, though, so make sure yours does. Apart from the convenience telemed coverage affords, it also gives you peace of mind since you don’t need to risk going out in public.
3. Wellness Resources
Peace of mind is an important and sometimes overlooked part of healthcare. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Unfortunately, not all insurance accounts for this.
For example, if you’re a young mom, chances are you’re homeschooling your kids. Or perhaps you have elderly relatives to care for. No one was prepared for COVID-19, which means many of us now find ourselves in challenging situations.
Open enrollment is a chance to find out if your healthcare benefits include support options. These can consist of dedicated meditation spaces (if you still have to work away from home), free flu vaccines and biometric scanning, paid time off to spend with your children, and so on.
Some employers even offer a ‘gamification’ wellness portal, where you can log on and complete specific healthcare-related tasks to earn deductions on your insurance.
4. HSA vs. FSA
Finally, open enrollment is the perfect time to decide between an HSA (Health Savings Account) or FSA (Flexible Savings Account). Both are very similar but have a few crucial differences.
An HSA is often linked with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). If you have an HDHP, you may pay a lower premium every month, but at the expense of a higher monthly deductible, i.e., you pay for healthcare items with more of your own money before the insurance kicks in.
An HSA lets you set aside part of your salary, pre-tax, for medical needs. Every year this balance rolls over, so as time goes on, it’s possible to save up quite a lot of money for healthcare.
Combining an HDHP with an HSA lets you use this tax-exempt balance to pay for your deductible and medical expenses. Having an HDHP means you’re paying less a month for your health insurance, and the HSA means you don’t have to worry about being out of pocket to cover the deductible.
An FSA works in the same way as an HSA: you can set aside a certain amount, pre-tax, from your salary for medical costs. However, an FSA requires you to choose an amount (e.g., $1,000). Your employer then takes that out of your wages over the following year.
Plus, an FSA can only ever have $2,650 in it, and it doesn’t roll over like an HSA amount. Your employer may let you keep $500 or give you an extra couple of months to use your FSA amount, but whatever you don’t use after this grace period is gone.
So to summarize: an HSA amount rolls over, but you need to spend more of your own money before you can use it. An FSA amount can be used whenever you want, but whatever is left is gone once the year’s over.
Both are useful and valuable options related to health insurance. It just depends on which sounds more attractive to you. For example, an FSA is perfect for short term medical needs, whereas an HSA is more about long term planning.
Frequently asked questions
What is open enrollment?Open enrollment is a period when employees can change and choose various benefits available through their employers. These benefits can include health insurance, legal aid options, or dental care. The benefits and costs vary between employers.
When does the open enrollment period usually begin and end?The open enrollment period usually begins around November 1st and ends on or around December 15th. However, some employers might not follow this timetable and may only run open enrollment for a couple of weeks.
Does health insurance cover COVID-19 testing?It varies by plan, but it's important to ask if your health plan covers COVID-19 testing during open enrollment. Some insurance plans may cover the cost or give you access to clinics that do it.
What is telemedicine coverage?Telemedicine coverage means you have a remote appointment with a medical professional, for example, over Zoom or Skype. Not every healthcare plan offers it, so it's important to check if yours does during open enrollment.
What are some wellness resources that might be included in my healthcare benefits?Wellness resources can vary but may include support options like dedicated meditation spaces, free flu vaccines and biometric scanning, paid time off to spend with your children, and more. Some employers even offer a ‘gamification’ wellness portal, where you can complete specific healthcare-related tasks to earn deductions on your insurance.
What is the difference between an HSA and an FSA?An HSA (Health Savings Account) is often linked with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and allows you to set aside part of your salary, pre-tax, for medical needs. This balance rolls over every year. An FSA (Flexible Savings Account) works similarly, but the amount does not roll over and whatever is left at the end of the year is gone.
Can an HSA be used to cover the deductible of an HDHP?Yes, combining an HDHP with an HSA lets you use this tax-exempt balance to pay for your deductible and medical expenses.
Which is better for short term medical needs, an HSA or an FSA?An FSA is generally better for short term medical needs as the amount can be used whenever you want, but whatever is left is gone once the year’s over. An HSA is more about long term planning.