Personal Finance

Cut your health costs during open enrollment

Tips for a healthier, wealthier 2015

Open enrollment season is coming soon for most employees, and many aren't looking forward to what can be an arduous process.

In fact, 23 percent of American workers say they'd rather clean their toilets than research benefit options, according to a recent survey by Aflac, the largest provider of supplemental insurance. Taking the time to choose the right health plan for you and your family, though, can pay off.

"Most workers don't pay close attention because they see it as a few hundred dollars taken from their paycheck each month," said Matthew Owenby, chief human resources officer at Aflac. "But if they considered that open enrollment is really a $2,000 to $5,000 decision that they are making for next year, they might be more careful with their choices."

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Here's what to keep in mind as you read over your benefits this fall.

Employer Changes

The cost of health insurance will rise for some workers next year. One in 3 large employers will increase premiums employees pay for coverage and about 1 in 4 employers will push up deductibles, according to estimates by the National Business Group on Health.

You may also have to adjust your health-care coverage next year if you're married and your spouse can receive insurance elsewhere.The National Business Group on Health found that 34 percent of employers will implement surcharges for spouses who can obtain coverage through their own employer, up from 29 percent this year.

Even worse, a handful of employers will exclude spouses altogether from health coverage if it is available through an employer.

It's not just about the premium

When selecting a plan, don't just go with the lowest premium, said Craig Rosenberg, health and welfare national leader at benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. Consider how much you'll spend out of pocket to use the coverage—from meeting your deductible to co-pays for office visits and prescription drugs, he said. Also check to see if your doctors are in the health plan's network.

More than 80 percent of large employers offer a high-deductible plan, called a consumer-directed health plan by the insurance industry. These plans are often paired with a health savings account (HSA), which you can use to help pay for eligible out-of-pocket costs.

"Don't get sticker shock with a high-deductible plan," said Tom Billet, a senior consultant with benefits consulting firm Towers Watson. "Often times an employer contributes to an employee's HSA and that money is triple tax-free. It goes in tax-free, the earnings are tax-free and it goes out tax-free."

High-deductible plans can make a lot of sense for healthy workers who can afford to contribute to an HSA, Billet said.

Unlike the more common flexible spending account (FSA), an HSA doesn't have a use-it-or-lose-it provision, meaning an account holder must spend all (or almost all) of the balance of the account each year or lose the remaining money. (In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service modified its FSA regulations to let employers decide whether their workers could roll over up to $500 of unused FSA funds for the next year.) HSAs can help workers invest and save for major health expenses now and in retirement without those restrictions.

Enroll in wellness programs

To fight rising health costs, employers have also continued to beef up wellness programs.

Participating in an employer's wellness program can often help lower the cost of coverage. Employers will reduce premiums or provide cash to workers who take health risk questionnaires, participate in blood pressure and cholesterol screenings or agree to health coaching.

Typically, such incentives range from $50 to $500, according to Aon Hewitt, but 44 percent of large employers provide wellness incentives of more than $500. That can take out some of the bite if your health-plan premiums are rising next year.