First, make an active choice. Many employers will roll over coverage to next year, even if you don't actively select a healthcare plan. But others may not, which could leave you uncovered. Even if you're pretty sure you don't want to change anything, go through the paperwork and re-affirm your selection.
Also, weigh premiums and deductibles. Healthcare costs are on the rise. You might see that increase in a higher premium, which is the cost you pay to participate. Or you might see it in higher co-pays and deductibles, what you pay out of pocket before the insurance kicks in. Or both. Compare each plan available to you and your spouse, and see which offers the best price for the type of coverage you need. It might even make sense to keep dual coverage.
Don't forget to calculate prescription costs. If you're on prescription medications, this could be one of the most important plan factors to consider. Employers are moving to tiered coverage and even asking patients to pay for part of the drug's cost, which could dramatically increase your bills. If that's the case, ask your pharmacy what your out-of-pocket cost might be under the new plan.
Now is also the time to save for 2011. If you have the opportunity, contributing money to a pre-tax flexible spending account can be a great way to cut out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Consider any of those new co-pays and prescription costs. Then figure out how much to set aside based on expected costs.
And finally, get healthy. More employers are offering a break or premiums or cash incentives if you pledge to make healthier choices. Ask HR if the company offers any perks for quitting smoking, losing weight or attending health screenings.
For more information on how to find the right health care coverage and other consumer advice, visit SmartMoney.com.
by Kelli Grant and Jenn Eaker