Navigate the changing landscape

Fall is open enrollment at workplaces for millions of Americans, meaning it’s again time to choose benefits for the next year.

The benefits landscape changes annually as employers try to attract and retain employees and the needs and desires of those workers change. In 2017, 32% of employers reported an increase in overall benefits over the previous 12 months, according to the Society for Human Resources Management’s annual benefits survey. Wellness benefits such as activity programs and standing desks had the highest increase, followed by health benefits such as insurance plans.

Here’s a closer look at common benefits and how to make the best selection for 2018 during the coming enrollment period.

Health insurance

The cost of employer health insurance has risen every year since at least 1999, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts health care research. In recent years, increases have been less dramatic — a 3% to 4% annual increase since 2012 — than in the early 2000s, when premiums frequently rose more than 9% each year.

But costs are still rising faster than workers’ pay, according to the Kaiser data, and it’s not just premiums. At open enrollment, most employees see “their copayments go up, their deductibles go up. They’re seeing something taken away,” says John Young, a senior vice president at Alegeus, a benefits technology and services company.

Your employer likely will offer just a few health plans to choose from. To make the best choice, Young has these tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with what deductibles, copayments and coinsurance mean, and what’s included in your current plan, before it’s time to choose for the next year
  • Compare this year’s offerings with last year’s. They may be similar, but check the costs for doctor’s office visits and any other services you use frequently.
  • If your employer offers a tool or software to help you choose a plan, use it
  • Write down questions to ask your benefits manager before the open enrollment period is over

Tax-advantaged accounts

Your employer may offer you any of these three types of nonretirement accounts:

  • Flexible spending account, or FSA
  • Health savings account, or HSA
  • Health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA

FSAs and HSAs are called tax-advantaged accounts because any money you add comes from your paycheck before taxes, and you don’t pay taxes to withdraw funds.

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