Thursday, November 15, 2012

Employee Benefits: Options, Lots of Options!

It's that time of year again. Annual enrollment is upon us. Time for employees to figure out which dental plan to select, which flexible spending accounts we need, and what percentage of our salaries should go to our retirement funds.

Although I am so grateful to have a full-time job with amazing benefits, as well as the option to select benefits from my husband's employer, open enrollment can be overwhelming and was particularly stressful for us this year for a few reasons.

Mostly because we waited until the last minute, which is not my usual approach, but hey we have a toddler now so can blame him, right? These days there just never seems to be enough time, especially during the work week. To be fair, my husband's organization's enrollment deadline was only a week after mine opened (ekk!).

There were also some major changes to the structure and costs of the health insurance plan we elected last year so it was unclear whether it made more sense to re-enroll in the same plan or switch (and deal with the headaches that come with switching over to a new health insurance plan).

So one night last week after we put the kiddo to bed we got to it. Our first step was to add up all of our bills, Eligibility of Benefits (EOBs), and the amount we designated to our flexible spending account to see how much we spend on health care each year.

Very romantic, I know.

Turns out that it had been more than 2 years since our paperwork had been organized, even though I did have a system in place with labeled folders that were easily accessible to us, it seemed in our perpetual rush called life we had just been tossing stuff in haphazardly. We paid the price that night though.

It also turns out that our pre "employee plus family" days were much easier to keep track of. No prenatal care appointments and sonograms, no labor and delivery bills, or co-pays for pediatrician visits for colds/ear infections/conjunctivitis/hand foot mouth disease/flu shots/more ear infections. Oouf, so, so many germs and illnesses, which resulted in lots of receipts to add up!

It took us about 5 hours total to sort through our paperwork to determine what type of coverage we needed, how much money to designate to flex accounts, and elect our benefits online. This included changing the percentages we designate to retirement, canceling a life insurance plan and electing for a new one, and calling every doctor's office that we wanted to stay with the next morning to make sure they accepted our new insurance (a few did not), as well as verifying with the new insurer that our doctors were within network on their list as well (one was not so required an additional call from a very nice billing manager of our pediatrician's office to sort it out).

It's a good predicament to be in when you have to decide which benefits to choose from because it means you have options, so I'm not complaining about the options we have. We are grateful to work for organizations that provide so many benefits for their employees because it is the right thing to do. If there are any readers in the market for health insurance, check out this site, http://shorttermhealthinsurance.net that connects you to temporary health insurance options for when you're in between jobs, etc. Sometimes it makes sense to go with one of these if you can't afford COBRA payments through your employer, or will be out of work past that coverage period.

I am curious how other parents stay on top of "annual" enrollment. Do you keep track of your expenses throughout the year? We love WageWorks' online system for our flexible spending accounts, but it doesn't cover everything since our expenses go above and beyond that. Although we did elect to stick with my husband's employer's flexible spending accounts so we could stay with WageWorks as the administrator and keep the same cards, login, etc.

What tools do you use to help you decide which benefits to go with or how much to designate to which accounts? Does your organization have any special benefits calculators you use? I would love to know how you stay organized, please share in the comments section below!

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