By Tom Murphy, AP Business Writer
Companies are in the midst of opening their annual window for employees to make coverage changes so it's time to think hard about health insurance.
Although this may not sit atop everyone's to-do list as the holidays approach, it should be somewhere on their list because big savings can ride on decisions made — or not made — this fall. Even so, benefits experts say they face a common foe when it comes to getting employees to focus on their benefits.
"Inertia is our biggest enemy," said Ingrid Lindberg, a customer experience officer with health insurer Cigna Corp.
With that in mind, here are some pitfalls to avoid after that e-mail arrives letting you know that your company's open enrollment season has started.
1. DON'T BLOW IT OFF
Most employers hold open enrollment for several weeks in October and November because their benefits coverage year starts Jan. 1. Unless you get divorced, have a child or leave your company, open enrollment may be your only chance for the year to adjust your benefits.
That means more than just deciding whether to keep the same insurance coverage. Workers may have the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars on child care or medical expenses by signing up for special pre-tax accounts.
At least check your coverage for changes.
2. DON'T ASSUME THINGS STAY THE SAME
Make certain any doctors you see will still be in the insurer's coverage network. Care providers and insurers negotiate coverage, and networks can change. Out-of-network care can expose patients to larger bills.
Spend a few minutes thinking about how you used your coverage last year and what your expectations are for the new year. Will the plan still cover up to 15 chiropractor visits or did that total shrink to 10?
Anyone who takes an ongoing prescription should check for price changes. Employer-sponsored plans can have tiers or preferred status for drugs, and a move to a different tier affects pricing.
Check with your doctor to see whether your drugs have cheaper generic equivalents. The pharmaceutical industry faces a wave of expirations for patents protecting some top-selling drugs.
The cholesterol fighter Lipitor, the world's top-selling drug, loses patent protection this month. The anti-psychotic Zyprexa already lost its U.S. patent.
More companies are asking their employees to pay more for coverage. Check to see if the premium, or the amount that comes out of your paycheck for insurance coverage, will change. Your company may offer a less-expensive option.