Open Enrollment Time: A Guide to Your Benefits Package

It’s Open Enrollment time at most employers, the time when you get to choose your benefits coverage for next year. You will review your chosen options, and make changes to them as needed. It’s important to be familiar with last year’s benefits. You may get a summary, but can use your paystub to see what your current costs are. The window of time to change your benefits is often small, be sure you know when your open enrollment period begins and ends.

Photo by mag3737 via Flickr

This year has seen an increase in “healthy living” programs at companies nationwide. In an effort to decrease healthcare costs, companies are charging higher premiums to employees who do not participate in a health care screening. The health care screening is confidential, but many employers use it as a way to identify workers who need help making healthier habits. Some employers are offering weight loss incentives, smoking cessation programs, and other programs based on the results of the screening.

Employees may see an increase in out of paycheck or out of pocket costs. Companies are still struggling after the recession as well as dealing with higher insurance costs. For a detailed article about the changes that many employees are seeing read more at CNN Money.

The following are a list of options that are common among companies with more than 50 employees. It is not comprehensive but covers the basic options most employers offer.

Health Care

Most companies offer several kinds of health insurance. You will typically find:


  • Pros: Higher coverage rates. Lower co-pays. May be lower or near in cost to other options.
  • Cons: Have to choose a primary care physician. Must get referrals for specialists. Out of network coverage is expensive.


  • Pros: Covers out of network providers. No need for referrals. Do not need to choose Primary Care Physician.
  • Cons: Percentage of coverage may vary. Co-pays are often high. Out of pocket deductibles may be high.

HSA with a high deductible plan

  • Pros: Money is kept in a tax-deffered until you need it (meaning it can grow tax-free), great for people who are healthy, and have few medical issues. Low monthly payment.
  • Cons: High co-pays. No coverage in some cases.


Choose the best plan you can, dental care is expensive.


You can opt out if you have no issue with your vision, and are under 35. Choose a good plan if you or anyone in your family wears glasses, or you are older (chances are you may need glasses as you age).

Other Insurances

Life Insurance

If you get life insurance for free, take it. Group life insurance plans is generally not good coverage and should NOT be your only coverage. Price compare by using sites like or Accuquote.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance

Generally not recommended, unless you work in a physical field like construction. If you have extra money to spend on this, choose more life insurance.

Spouse/Child Insurance

Generally not worth the extra money, as you can find the same policies cheaper and for higher amounts.

Short and Long-term Disability

Choose at least minimal coverage. Your employer may offer some for free, it’s up to you if you feel it is worth putting the money into insurance or using it to further buffer your emergency fund.

Health Care and Dependent Care Flexible Expense Accounts

Take full advantage of these options if you can. It can be tricky to decide the amount if your costs are unknown (like with health care spending accounts), but choose on the higher end. At the end of the year you can use up your funds so you don’t lose them on pre-paying for next year’s daycare expenses, or purchasing over the counter medicines, first aid kits or an extra pair of glasses.


You may have options such as discounted health club memberships, smoke cessation program reimbursements, or any number of perks. Take advantage of them if you can.

Many companies offer a hotline, or a website dedicated answering common questions, so be sure to check for a FAQ or similar before contacting a person. If you have questions or concerns about your enrollment forms, talk to someone in your human resources department. At most companies you can only change your enrollment options when you have a change in family status such as a birth, death, or adoption.

Whatever options you choose, make sure you fully read your package or information before making any final decisions.

Have your healthcare premiums increased? How are you planning to make your selections this year?

About the Author

By , on Oct 29, 2009
Kelly Whalen
Kelly Whalen is a stay at home mom of 4 kids, who is on a mission to pay off all her consumer debt, and keep her home from falling into chaos. You can find her at The Centsible Life. You can also find her on twitter.

Leave Your Comment (One Comment)

  1. I’m confused, disability insurance isn’t important? That seems to be the only what that you don’t give definitive advice on. So should I assume it’s the least important? I forget the exact statistics but I believe you are about twice as likely to become disabled than die during your working years. Yet you suggest taking the life insurance and get more outside of work, which I agree with. However, you gloss over disability insurance. I guess I expected more out of this website?

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