Open Enrollment: How to Compare Health Insurance Plans
Open enrollment season is here! As your employee benefits guides have begun to roll in, I’ve been taking a look at what your employers have to offer for 2024. For many of you, changes have been subtle. But I’ve seen some BIG differences, too — especially when it comes to comparing your health insurance plans!
In fact, one of the most important employee benefits to enroll in is health insurance. (In case you’re wondering, the other two are long-term disability and life insurance.) Have your medical coverage needs changed drastically? Do you have new health insurance plans available through your employer? Is your spouse or partner’s employer-sponsored coverage newly available to you? Are you just not happy with your current plan and wonder how another option would suit you? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, it’s time to compare health insurance plans.
If you’ve received your employee benefits guide for 2024 but haven’t sent it my way for analysis yet, be sure to do so! You can find my secure upload link in my email footer. Just send it my way with a note about when your open enrollment period begins and ends along with anything you’d like for me to focus on. I’ll follow up by sending my recommendations your way. And if your spouse or partner has benefits that are available to you, be sure to send their guide, too!
What are your other health insurance options?
If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored plan, reviewing your health insurance options during this time of year is especially important. This may apply if you …
- Have recently been laid off or want to be prepared for a potential job loss.
- Are ready to transition to self-employment and away from an employer.
- Have become financially independent and no longer need to work for a living.
- Just reached Medicare age or are entering your initial Medicare enrollment period.
- Don’t love your current marketplace or Medicare plan.
- Want to learn about more cost-effective options.
The good news is that open enrollment season extends far beyond the workplace! While autumn employee benefits open enrollments tend to happen in November with some also taking place in October, they’re not the only ones! If you don’t have access to employee benefits, you’ll want to keep these key open enrollment dates in mind …
- Medicare: October 15 through December 7
- Connect for Health Colorado: November 1 through January 15
- HealthCare.gov: November 1 through January 15
Just like enrolling in employee benefits, these windows are the one time period each year when you can enroll in or change plans without experiencing a life event. Even if you’re just a little curious about what’s available, take this time to review your options. They change every year, so it makes sense to compare health insurance plans and make sure the one you’re on is just right for you.
No matter your situation, you should never go without health insurance. And it might be more affordable than you think! Read on to review what you should be considering when it comes to choosing the best health insurance plan for yourself — or yourself and your family — in 2024.
Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance
With medical coverage through your employer, you might have a yes-or-no option — or a few to choose from. If it’s a simple yes or no, chances are that you should say “yes” if you haven’t yet reached Medicare age or don’t have other coverage available through your spouse or partner. Why? Well, you could go with a marketplace plan .… but you likely wouldn’t be eligible for a subsidy. You might be used to your employer covering all or a portion of your health insurance premiums, and you may be surprised by the cost of marketplace plans with no premium tax credit!
If you have options, like a list to choose from, see if there’s a health-savings-account-eligible high-deductible health plan (HDHP) available. Don’t let the “high deductible” part fool you! If your options look similar or you know that you’ll need lots of pricey medical care in 2024, be sure to balance the premiums you’ll pay with your copay, deductible, coinsurance, and maximum out-of-pocket costs. This is especially important if your partner or spouse’s coverage extends to you. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to sit down and analyze your options, discussing what you’ll expect for care needs and how one of you might reimburse the insurance carrier in your family if you split expenses.
Or let me compare your health insurance plans for you! It’s included when you work with us for ongoing implementation services.
Recently lost your job? Bummer. Dealing with a layoff or job loss is no fun. First things first, apply for unemployment. Coming in at a close second, though, is reviewing your Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) continuation of health coverage letter.
As I mentioned earlier, if your employer offers health insurance, they likely pay for a portion of your premiums. When you’re laid off, you have the option to continue your medical insurance coverage. However, you’ll pay the full premium — both your previous portion and the part your employer was paying — plus a small administrative fee.
Even with high premiums, continuing your coverage can be especially nice if you’ve already reached certain limits on your current policy. For example, if you’ve already met your deductible or maximum out-of-pocket limit for the year, you may consider keeping your plan at a higher price, especially if it’s nearing the end of the year. This is also true if your plan covers specific doctors that most other plans don’t.
Remember, you only have 60 days to enroll in COBRA coverage, so act fast!
But what if it’s not near the end of the year or your premiums would be outrageously expensive under COBRA — and at a time when your income is drastically reduced? Read on, my friend!
Going to the Health Insurance Marketplace
If you’ve recently experienced a life event like a job loss, you can enroll in “marketplace” coverage within 60 days. It’s a good idea to compare what’s available on your state’s marketplace (like Connect for Health Colorado) or, if your state doesn’t offer one, on the national HealthCare.gov marketplace.
You don’t have to go on COBRA just because it’s offered to you, and your only option on COBRA is to continue the employer-sponsored plan you were already on. Even if your employer offered multiple options, you’re not able to use your COBRA window to switch to another of their plans. So take a look! You’ll have additional options to choose from in the marketplace, and the premiums might be comparable — or even less pricey. In fact, you may be eligible for a premium tax credit that can help reduce the cost of marketplace coverage.
Not in a “special” enrollment period due to a life event like marriage, a new family member, or the like? It’s almost your time! Open enrollment is just around the corner. You can preview prices now to start getting a feel for cost and to see what premiums would look like in the context of your cash-flow plan.
This is a great time to take a sneak peek if you’re considering leaving your job, want to switch plans, or just want to be ready in case of a job loss. There are often lots of options to choose from, so find a convenient time to meet if you’d like to discuss your needs and preview plans. If you’re comparing marketplace health insurance plans on your own, consider any advance premium tax credit alongside the other elements. Again, balance your out-of-pocket premium with your needs and other costs to find the best option for you.
Ahhh, Medicare. If you’re turning 65 in January, your initial enrollment period is happening right now! Making the shift from employer-sponsored health insurance coverage to Medicare can seem scary. But it doesn’t have to be! Review your options since your initial enrollment period only lasts seven months. (That’s three months before the month in which you turn 65 and three months after it, too.)
Did you know that you can change plans? That’s right! You’re not locked into the plan you choose forever. Open enrollment for Medicare plans happens each autumn and extends into early winter. And it’s happening now! If you’re not a big fan of your plan or just want to explore what’s available, there’s no harm in having a look.
Have a difficult decision to make? We recently started working with Caribou, a healthcare planning company. They can help you make a strong decision about your health care during a difficult or crucial time, like after a job loss or if you have the option to choose between Medicare and employer coverage. Plus, if you’re an ongoing comprehensive services client, you can apply your $300 per year FPFoCo implementation credit to their $380 planning fee! Let us know if you’d like a comprehensive Caribou health insurance analysis, and we’ll send you an invoice with your remaining annual credit subtracted from their fee.
For less complex cases — like deciding between your or your spouse’s employee benefits options — reach out! I’m here to lend a hand. And if you’re looking for additional open enrollment guidance, check out Back to Basics: Employee Benefits for more!
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