Only 15% of Americans say they plan to make changes to their health insurance plans during open enrollment this year, according to a survey of nearly 2,200 U.S. adults Morning Consult performed in conjunction with CNBC Make It. But experts say when it comes to something as important as health insurance, it's worth taking your time to review your plan options before you check off the same boxes you did last year.
For one, plan choices may change from one year to the next, Tracy Watts, senior partner for U.S. Health Policy at benefits consulting firm Mercer, tells CNBC Make It.
"One of the things that we've noticed is that it seems like employers are adding more choices, and so if in the past you only had one or two choices there might be a new choice this year," says Watts.
Any changes for the year will typically be explained in a cover note on open enrollment material, says Watts, which will only take a few minutes to review. That said, Watts recommends taking at least 20 minutes to sit and look through all of your material and compare the real costs of all of the coverage options, and particularly how much is withheld from your paycheck each pay period.
And it's not just medical benefits you need to consider: Things like disability and life insurance offerings can change from year to year, or your need for them may change. In particular, Watts recommends looking over supplemental insurance options to see how it can work in tandem with your health insurance.
For example, accident insurance will pay a cash benefit if you or a covered family member has an accident of some kind, which could be particularly useful for families with children, says Watts.
"Understanding how your benefits can work together is obviously a good idea," she says.
Something else to consider: maximizing your FSA or HSA account. Only about 13% of Americans currently have a FSA account, according to the Morning Consult/CNBC Make It survey, and only about 17% have an HSA. But these accounts can help save you money on your medical bills.
A FSA allows you to set aside money pre-tax to pay for qualified medical expenses. If you don't use the funds by the end of the year, you lose the money (you can roll over $500 to the next year).
HSAs, on the other hand, can be used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans, and you can invest the money you put aside in the account. Unlike FSAs, you do not lose your money at the end of the year.
"They're basically tax-free savings accounts that allow you to pre-plan for your health care," Jonathan Wiik, principal of health-care strategy at TransUnion Healthcare, told CNBC Make It. They act a cushion for any out-of-pocket medical expenses you might be on the hook for when you visit your doctor.
Watts says that if you were enrolled in an HSA last year, "most employers make you re-sign up" each year, which you don't want to miss.
How much money you should opt to put away during open enrollment depends on your personal circumstances, of course. The average American household spent almost $5,000 per person last year in out-of-pocket expenses and insurance premiums, CNBC Make It previously reported, which can help with the math (FSA/HSA funds cannot be used to pay for premiums, though they can be used to pay deductibles and copayments). You can also look back at your out-of-pocket expenses for the past few years and make a decision based on those.
If you're confused about anything, Watts says there will be a phone number that you can call for help, and you should take advantage.
"The thing I think people lose sight of is employers spend a lot of money on these benefits because they want you to get what you need, they want them to be valuable to you," she says. "If you don't understand, ask questions. Get the information that you need."
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