Changes coming to open enrollment

By BenefitsPro

By Kathryn Mayer

Another ordinary enrollment season, it is not.

With a number of changes to health benefits driven by rising health costs and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employees need to pay extra attention when choosing their health benefits during enrollment this year, consulting firm Aon Hewitt warns.

As employees “typically spend very little time” choosing health benefits each year, Craig Rosenberg, Aon Hewitt’s health and welfare benefits administration practice leader, said that same-old strategy this year can be a risky — and potentially costly — one.

“In some cases, not making an active decision during enrollment means employees could get defaulted into a health care plan that doesn’t meet their needs — or even worse — leaves them and their families with no coverage at all,” he said. “It’s up to employees to read the fine print and take an active role in understanding if and how these changes may impact them.”

Some of the most notable changes this year to keep an eye out for? Aon Hewitt provided a list.

A more expensive price tag. Aon Hewitt’s research shows most employers plan to subsidize employees’ health coverage at the same percentage rate as last year. But as health care costs increase overall, the amount of money employees will need to contribute out of their paychecks continues to climb. In addition, almost one in five employers has increased surcharges for adult dependents with access to coverage elsewhere.

More options for coverage. Starting next year, all Americans will be required to have health care coverage or risk paying a penalty. Some employees — particularly those who are not offered health coverage through their employer — may wish to purchase individual coverage through the new state and federal marketplaces.
A higher probability of being in a consumer-driven health plan. Consumer-driven health plans continue to rise in popularity and have surpassed HMOs as the second most offered plans by employers. In fact, a growing number of employers are offering CDHPs as the only plan option. While just 10 percent of companies do so today, another 44 percent are considering it in the next three to five years.

Programs that promote health awareness and education. With employers facing the impacts of rising health care costs and declining health of the population, employees can expect to see more employers offering programs that encourage them to take a more active role in managing their health. For example, 75 percent of employers offer health risk questionnaires and 71 percent offer biometric screenings such as blood pressure and cholesterol.

More incentives for exhibiting healthy behaviors. Workers also can expect to see an increasing number of employers providing an incentive — either through a reward or a penalty — related to completion of programs such as HRQs and biometric screenings. Eighty-three percent of employers have such an incentive in place now.

New eligibility rules. Employers could be making changes to rules that determine which employees are eligible for health coverage, particularly as they evaluate requirements of the “employer mandate” provision of PPACA (which was delayed until 2015). In addition, the Supreme Court's decision to federally recognize same-sex marriages could mean more dependents will now be eligible for coverage.

Aon Hewitt said employees can make the most of these health benefits changes by being reviewing coverage provided their employer, by evaluating the pros and cons of a CDHP, considering supplemental benefits offered by an employer and by taking a health risk questionnaire and/or biometric screening to better understand personal health.

Maybe the most important tip of all? Actually take part in the enrollment process.

“Make sure you understand what’s changing, when you need to make your choices, and what your employer is requiring of you,” Aon Hewitt researchers said. “Most employers provide information and tools to help you understand your options and make your decisions.”

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