5 Easy Tips for Navigating Open Enrollment

Open enrollment can be a headache — here’s how to make it less painful
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For Medicare, marketplace and employer-sponsored coverage alike, open enrollment is here — and if your health care coverage depends on these services, now’s the time to review your policy and make sure you’re set up for success in 2024.

Of course, open enrollment can also be a time of great confusion. When is it, exactly? How long do you have to make your decisions? And which are the best decisions to make?

Below, find five tips for navigating the open enrollment period with as much ease as possible so you can secure the coverage you and your family need.

1. Not all open enrollment periods are created equally

While "open enrollment" may sound like one set period — and it’s true that most open enrollment periods happen in the same general time of year — the specifics depend on what kind of coverage you need.

In 2024, the Medicare open enrollment period runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2023, whereas Marketplace open enrollment runs from Nov. 1, 2023 through Jan. 15, 2024.

Keep in mind, too, that the Marketplace dates shift slightly by state. For instance, in many states, the open enrollment period has been extended until Jan. 16 (since Jan. 15 falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday). In certain states, the period may be slightly longer or shorter — Idaho’s open enrollment period ends on Dec. 15, while Rhode Island’s lasts until Jan. 31. In all cases, you’ll need to enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage starting Jan. 1.

If you’re covered by an employer, the period during which you can choose or change health care coverage is up to them and usually lasts for a period of about two to four weeks. In order to accommodate changes starting on the first of the year, the period usually occurs during October or November.

Keep in mind that, outside of the open enrollment period, you’d need to be subject to an IRS qualifying event, like a loss of coverage or a change in your marital status, to access special enrollment at a different time of year.

2. Pay close attention to your policy’s fine print — and changes in your life

Given the sheer amount of documentation that comes down the pipe during open enrollment, it may be tempting to just re-up the same policy you already have. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, right?

Unfortunately, insurance policies can (and often do) change from year to year in both cost and coverage — not to mention your life circumstances and health.

If you’ve developed an illness or injury over the last year, begun taking a new medication or are interested in trying modalities like acupuncture, chiropractic and behavioral therapy, it’s worth reviewing your plan to ensure those needs are covered in an affordable way. The same is true for all members of your household for whom coverage is being purchased.

But even if your health has remained status quo, keep in mind that copays, deductibles and premiums can change from year to year, as can coverage of specific services or providers. In short, it’s worth reading the fine print.

3. Online comparison tools can help

Even reading the fine print may not alert you to specific coverage gaps — or make it easy to see the differences between the plans you’ve identified as contenders.

Fortunately, both Medicare and the Marketplace offer an easy-to-use comparison tool that lets you see estimated costs, copays and deductibles side-by-side, including policies from different companies. Your employer may also offer a tool like this for comparing and selecting plans, but if you have additional questions or something doesn’t make sense, your HR representative, or a broker, may be able to help.

4. Consider an HSA or FSA

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) offer a tax-incentivized way to save money for certain eligible health-related out-of-pocket expenses, including prescription medications, deductibles and copayments (but not premiums).

An HSA must be tied to a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), and FSAs are only available to those who are employed by a company that sponsors one — but if you have access to these accounts, they’re worth considering. Contributions you make to these plans are tax-deductible, and the withdrawals you use to make qualified medical payments are also tax-free. That can add up to a lot of savings, especially for those who have a lot of out-of-pocket medical expenses.

5. Don’t leave life insurance out of the picture

While medical insurance may be the topic of preoccupation, it’s a good idea to take a look at your life insurance coverage, too — especially if you’re insured through your employer. While better than nothing, most of these plans only offer about a year’s salary or so in death benefits. Even a six-figure sum might not be much in the face of family needs like paying off a mortgage or getting through college. And, of course, the coverage is dependent on your job — so if you leave your position for any reason, it will be terminated.

While you can purchase life insurance outside of the open enrollment period, if you do have life insurance through your employer, this is a good chance to look at the beneficiary information and update it as needed. If you’ve gotten married or remarried, or if your beneficiary passed away, you’ll want to ensure an accurate contact is listed.

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