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The Open Enrollment FAQ

You’ve got questions about how to compare insurance plans and benefits packages. We’ve got answers.

Fall is here — which means it’s time to get out the sweaters, carve up some pumpkins and prepare for another Open Enrollment season. Here, a few common questions (you might call them “frequently asked”), and the knowledge you need to go forth in confidence.

In this article:

What’s different about Open Enrollment in 2021?

“Last year, COVID-19 and a virtual work environment posed a unique challenge for Americans when it came to open enrollment,” says Kevin Robertson, Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer at HSA Bank. “For this year’s open enrollment season, the workforce now has a new set of challenges with a hybrid work model.” Not to mention, COVID itself — which a recent Haven Life survey showed is very much on people’s minds as they make Open Enrollment decisions this year.

Some employers may begin offering hybrid Open Enrollment application processes that combine both in-person meetings and online webinars — or they may eliminate the in-person meetings and make Open Enrollment fully virtual.

If you already went through an online version of Open Enrollment in 2020, you’ll probably be familiar with the webinars, slideshows and virtual meetings associated with your employer’s presentation of benefits. This year, make sure you use those online tools to your advantage — including the ability to set up quick virtual meetings to ask questions about various plans before filling out your Open Enrollment application.

“Consider one-on-one in-person virtual meetings with employers/HR teams to review materials and provide customized, relevant advice,” suggests Robertson. Remember, your HR team wants to help you understand your various benefit options — so make sure you ask all of the questions you need before you make your final decisions.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to research a few of the most common Open Enrollment questions online before you set up that phone call or Zoom meeting with HR — which is why we’ve put together this Open Enrollment FAQ to answer top-level questions about comparing health insurance plans, opening HSAs and FSAs and evaluating life insurance options.

Ready to get started? Our Open Enrollment FAQs will help you gain a better understanding of what you should be doing during an Open Enrollment period.

How early can you begin making Open Enrollment decisions?

In general, the best time to evaluate your Open Enrollment options is as soon as you receive them. From medical coverage to life insurance, review everything that would be included before you enroll.

If you’re the kind of person who puts off your Open Enrollment decision-making until the last minute, set aside some time to go over your employer’s insurance and benefits packages as soon as they become available.

“Start the process earlier than in the past,” advises Robertson. “This will give more time to digest information, review plans and options, and ask questions.”

This year, many HR departments may present Open Enrollment information virtually — and, in some cases, may give you the opportunity to review Open Enrollment materials on your own time instead of in a group meeting. While that gives you plenty of time to study your options and ask questions, it also encourages procrastination — especially if you don’t feel like you have the tools you need to make an informed, confident decision.

This is why starting the process early can be a huge benefit (pun intended). Review your materials as soon as you get them, write down all of the questions that come up as you compare plans and ask your HR team for any clarification you need to help you make the best decisions for you and your family.

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How can you involve your partner or spouse in the decision-making?

On the subject of making decisions that benefit your family: Make sure you include all family decision-makers in the Open Enrollment process. This means that if you have a spouse or partner, let them know which plans and options are available — and let them weigh in on which options they think are best.

“Include all family decision-makers,” Robertson explains. “With healthcare becoming a more important topic among families, workers may want to invite family decision-makers to participate in benefits fairs, meetings, or open enrollment webcasts.”

Since many companies are doing Open Enrollment virtually this year, you have plenty of opportunity to share your employer’s various packages with your spouse or partner. If it’s appropriate for a family decision-maker to join the Open Enrollment Zoom meeting, for example, give them the chance to participate. If your employer pre-records an Open Enrollment presentation or puts Open Enrollment resources online, give your spouse or partner the opportunity to review the materials — they may catch something you missed, or come up with a question that you hadn’t thought of.

What’s the best way to compare health insurance plans?

Health insurance can be confusing enough on its own — and trying to compare two or more health insurance plans can be even more difficult. With each option offering a different set of copays, coinsurance, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, in-network doctors and prescription coverage, how can you determine which health insurance package is best for you and your family?

Understanding how to compare health plans may be difficult, but it is not impossible. In many cases, your employer will offer tools that can help you compare plans and choose between options. “Videos, presentations, calculators and visual content can be easily viewed and a way to see savings and benefits in real time,” explains Robertson — so make sure you use those resources to understand the differences between your various options.

Want even more resources? We’ve got a guide to help you pick the best health insurance plan for your family, including how to calculate how much a health insurance plan might cost you over the course of a year. If you are still unclear about the differences between copays and coinsurance, Healthcare.gov offers an overview of key health insurance terms — and if you want additional help calculating your potential healthcare costs, there are plenty of health plan comparison calculators online.

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Are HSAs and FSAs right for you?

In addition to calculating the differences between health insurance packages, you’re also going to want to do the math on whether you and your family could benefit from a Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

Health Savings Accounts give you the ability to put pretax dollars into a savings or investment account. From there, your HSA can be used to cover qualified medical expenses this year or in future years, including when you’re in retirement. In general, Health Savings Accounts can be excellent financial tools — but typically you have to be enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan to qualify for a HSA, so keep that in mind as you’re comparing options.

Flexible Spending Accounts can also be excellent financial tools. Like HSAs, FSAs allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars to an account that can be used for qualified medical expenses. Unlike HSAs, Flexible Spending Accounts are use-it-or-lose-it — which means that if you don’t spend the money you’ve saved by a specific period of time, your savings revert to your employer.

Want to know more? We’ve got a guide to all of the benefits that come with a Health Savings Account, including the triple tax break a HSA can offer — and if you want to know how to use your FSA dollars without losing them, read our guide to making the most of your FSA.

Should you consider vision or dental insurance?

Many employers will offer vision or dental insurance packages along with health care insurance plans. Does that mean you should sign up for vision and dental when reviewing your health coverage? It depends.

“I recommend looking carefully at the policy benefits of dental and vision insurance before purchasing,” explains Robertson. “The decision to buy the coverage comes down to a cost-benefit analysis based on the specific circumstances of the consumer and their history with dental and vision needs.”

If someone in your household is likely to need specialized vision or dental services — a child who needs braces, for example — an insurance package could be a good choice. If you only anticipate visiting the dentist or optometrist for an annual cleaning or screening, you might be better off paying out-of-pocket, especially if you can cover the cost with HSA or FSA dollars. “If it’s merely being looked at for routine services only, most people are likely to find that the vision or dental plan coverage will cost them the same or more than paying for those services out-of-pocket,” says Robertson.

That said, anyone who has children or other eligible dependents should think seriously about adding vision or dental coverage to their benefits package — because you never know whether this is going to be the year when your child needs extra orthodontic or optometric care.

Want to know what other insurance packages you should consider if you have (or are thinking about having) kids? Read our guide to choosing insurance plans when you have children. You might want to consider disability coverage, for example — especially if you’re planning on having a child in the next year. If your kids have pets, you might want to take out a pet insurance plan to ensure that you can afford whatever medical procedures your dogs or cats may need.

Should you sign up for a group life insurance plan?

Many employers offer group life insurance plans — but not all group life insurance plans offer enough coverage to provide long-term financial security for your loved ones. Before signing up for an employer-sponsored group life insurance plan, ask yourself whether group life insurance is going to provide the coverage you need or whether you should consider an affordable, individually owned term life insurance policy.

Need help? We’ve got a guide to understanding group life insurance plans — and a guide to help you decide how much life insurance coverage is best for you and your family.

Want even more help? Use our term life quote calculator to find out how much a Haven Life term plan might cost. You might be surprised at how affordable monthly term life insurance premiums can be — and how much life insurance coverage your affordable premiums will get you.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

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