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What is Benefits Open Enrollment?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Benefits open enrollment is a period of time, about the same each year, where a business or another organization like the government, allows people to enroll in or change insurance plans or other company benefits. Unless people have a major life change, such as the birth of a child or a marriage, or unless they have just become employed with a company, this is generally the only time of year when employees can change insurance or other benefit allotments. Similarly, things like the benefits open enrollment period for Medicare are about the only times, except for initial Medicare eligibility, that people can alter aspects of their Medicare coverage.

There are many things that might be changed in a benefits open enrollment period. If a company offers several forms of medical insurance, people could upgrade or downgrade depending on costs and the coverage they would like to have. If it's not done earlier in the year, adding additional people to coverage plans, like new spouses or children, can be done at this time. Other plans some companies offer include vision or dental care, and employees can elect whether to accept these plans, usually paying a small fee, or not pay for them.

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Benefits don’t just apply to medical or health coverage. Employees might have the opportunity to purchase life insurance or to join a flexible spending or health savings plan. Additionally, contribution amounts to things such as 401ks could be changed during the benefits open enrollment period.

It is not just employees that may make changes during this time period. This is a time when employers can reassess what types of benefits they’ll offer. They could completely change the structure or worth of benefits by switching to lower coverage health plans or eliminating certain things, such as dental coverage, life insurance, or health insurance. These changes can be very difficult for employees who have grown accustomed to a certain level of extra coverage. It may mean workers must not only make sure to fill out forms and elect coverage, but they could end up having to do some research and scramble for new doctors or specialists.

When no changes are made, benefits open enrollment tends to be relatively painless. Employees must simply remember to make sure to fill out all needed forms before the deadline so they are covered, and smart companies hold meetings to help any employee in this process. If huge changes are made, this can be a time of great stress, particularly is an employee is asked to pay the same amount for much less in various forms of coverage.

Programs like Medicare offer an open enrollment period too, and this is a time for participants to make choices about their coverage for the following year. Most will need to choose a Medicare Part D plan (prescription drug coverage), or will have to sign up with a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan that covers prescription drugs. People may have a lot of choices to make, depending on area, and they need to make them within a specific time period, that usually occurs at the end of the year. A Medicare office is an excellent resource for getting questions answered about choices, and other local organizations might help with advice also.

In most cases, people don’t have to wait for the benefits open enrollment period for companies or a government to change for a few things. Often, people can change doctors, though if they belong to a health maintenance organization, they may need to call and designate a new primary care physician. Lost insurance cards can be replaced throughout the year without waiting for open enrollment.

Some 401ks allow people to manage their funds online and change how they want money to be invested as many times as they like. Yet people may not be able to change the designated investment amount. As previously stated, things like a marriage or a birth are usually exceptions and allow people to enroll new family members in health insurance or life insurance, though there may be a new enrollment period that applies, suggesting changes should be made soon after the event.

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