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How to avoid costly open-enrollment mistakes

How to avoid costly open enrollment mistakes

© AP Screen shot of the home page of HealthCare,gov.

Open enrollment is always tempting to ignore. When those weighty health insurance booklets arrive demanding that you make important elections right before the holidays, millions of Americans set them aside and either decide to look later -- or never. Whether that's because they're happy with their employer-sponsored health plan and don't intend to change it or simply because they neglect the choices until it's too late, experts say ignoring open enrollment is becoming increasingly costly.

More than half of employees find that bad choices cost them about $750 per year -- roughly $62 per month. And those who keep the same plan as the previous year aren't exempt. That's because a lot could change under the hood of your health plan from year to year, said Matthew Owensby, senior vice president of supplemental insurance provider Aflac.

"People think that they've gone to the same doctor and had the same plan for years, so they don't even bother to check if that doctor is still in their network," he said. "They just don't realize that the plans themselves can change."

In fact, roughly two-thirds of the consumers who went to a doctor or hospital that was out of their health care network -- a gaffe that leaves you essentially uncovered or underinsured -- had no idea they were doing it, said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth (UNH).

Plans also can change co-payments, prescription drug coverage and other easily overlooked details that could also leave you with unexpected costs, she said. Taking a few minutes to review your plan now could help you sidestep these unexpected costs and potentially lower your future health care bills. Better yet, it doesn't necessarily have to be time-consuming. Madsen suggests that employees focus on just a handful of key items:

Changes: Look at whether your plan has changed providers, deductibles or co-payments. Most plans will provide a summary of these changes. Besides reading through those changes and evaluating how they might affect you, make sure that all of your doctors remain "in network."

And while you're considering changes, think of your own. Are you sicker or healthier than you were last year? Did you develop an illness, go on any sort of regular prescription? Did you have a child, or do you plan to in the next year? Big changes in your life suggest a more careful review of what's covered.

Costs: What did you spend on health care last year, and do you expect it to be roughly the same this year? If so, compare the options your employer provides side-by-side to see if an alternative plan could result in lower overall premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Look, too, at whether your plan offers mail-order pharmacy options, which can help people who have chronic ailments get their medications at a discount.

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