Winter doesn't just bring colder weather; it also signals the start of open enrollment for health care. Open enrollment is the period each year when you can enroll in health coverage through your employer, a spouse's employer, or the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you already have health coverage, you can switch to a new plan or add additional coverage like dental and vision care. If you are looking to get covered, or have health coverage, here are some helpful tips:
If you don't have health coverage:
Find out about your employer's health plan. If your employer has a health plan and you chose not to enroll before, reconsider. If you don't know if your employer offers a health plan, ask around. Review plan coverage and costs to see if it meets your needs. If you decide to enroll in your employer's health plan, paying for coverage is simple -- your premiums can be deducted right from your paycheck. And new protections under the Affordable Care Act make health coverage affordable and easy.
Visit the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can buy individual insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Marketplace plans cover essential health benefits and you may qualify for premium tax credits and savings on out-of-pocket costs based on household size and income. Go to HealthCare.gov to compare your Marketplace options and enroll. You can also determine if you and your family are eligible for Medicaid or the Children"s Health Insurance Program.
If you already have health coverage:
Review your plan. Before you renew your health coverage during open enrollment, remember that health insurance premiums, cost-sharing, covered benefits, and provider networks can change from year to year. Look at all plan documents and note any changes. Also determine if your needs have changed and if your plan still meets those needs.
Explore your options. If your employer offers more than one plan, or if your spouse's employer also offers coverage, compare each option before making a decision. You also may want to consider a plan in the Health Insurance Marketplace, especially if you have COBRA continuation coverage. Review and compare coverage and cost information for each option to determine the best choice for you.
If you are considering enrolling or changing your coverage:
Find out when open enrollment begins and ends. If you are looking to enroll in an employment-based plan, open enrollment typically starts in late fall. Check with the plan administrator to make sure you do not miss the enrollment deadline. If you want to enroll in a Marketplace plan, open enrollment is from Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015. You must enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2015.
If you miss the open enrollment period, you will need to wait until next year's open enrollment unless you have a special enrollment opportunity such as marriage, job loss, or the birth of a child.
Enroll now to save money later. Even if you are healthy now, you never know when you might need health coverage. You can pay a little now and save a lot later. Also, if you don't have at least the minimum essential coverage, you may have to pay a fee when you file your taxes.
Take advantage of open enrollment and protect your future today. It is an opportunity you don't want to miss!
Phyllis C. Borzi is the assistant secretary of labor for employee benefits security.