Missing open enrollment can cost you

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BenefitsIf you’re fortunate enough to have a job that offers benefits, you should make sure you’re taking full advantage of everything at your disposal. I’m the first to admit that I get inundated with so much junk mail at home and so many e-mails at work that I often find myself only reading the items that look urgent. For anyone else who does the same, make sure you don’t toss out a message from your HR department letting you know that open enrollment season has arrived. Open enrollment is the period when you can adjust your benefits or enroll in new ones for the following year. You only have a few days (often about a week) to do so, and then once the window closes, it’s done for the year.

This might not mean much to you, but if you need to add a new benefit (such as vision) or adjust how much you’re setting aside for your flex spending, you’ve only got this one shot. And a lot of you are doing just that. A new CareerBuilder survey finds that 25 percent of workers reported that they don’t pay attention to benefit changes, figuring the same benefits would roll over from the previous year or feeling that the whole process is too confusing. And 15 percent of hiring managers estimate more than 10 percent of their employees miss annual open enrollment deadlines each year on average. Eek!

Why is this such a big deal? Take it from the words of hiring managers: Missing open enrollment costs you cash. Lots of cash. I don’t think anyone in today’s economy has the luxury of saying, “Eh, save money? Who needs to do that?” According to 34 percent of HR managers, missing open enrollment costs employees, on average, at least $500 in out-of-pocket expenses. Twenty percent report that it costs employees more than $1,000, while 10 percent report it costs employees more than $2,500. And some companies have strict policies on when you can make adjustments for major events, such as births or weddings. If you miss the deadline to add your newborn son or daughter to your policy, you might end up paying for his or her first year of bills out of your own pocket.

One of the ways employees are missing out is by not realizing they have a wealth of options available to them. Many available benefits options go unnoticed by too many employees who could use them. HR managers were asked which benefit programs were the most commonly unnoticed by workers, they gave the following list:

  • Flexiblehealth-care spending –- 43 percent
  • Wellness benefits – 45 percent
  • Tuition reimbursement – 38 percent
  • Banking programs – 25 percent
  • Discounts on personal entertainment – 24 percent
  • Discounts on technology for personal use – 22 percent
  • Discounts on travel for personal use (rental cars, airplane tickets) – 20 percent
  • Transit programs – 10 percent
  • Help with childcare – 10 percent

If any of those sound appealing to you, double check with your HR representative to see if they’re available to you. (Or check any HR and benefits documents you have first, ’cause I’m sure  your HR rep is being inundanted with questions right now. If you don’t find the answer, contact him or her. They’ll be glad to help you.)

You can read more from the survey here. After you’re done reading, go mark open enrollment on your calendar and make sure you’ve got all the info you need. You can’t afford to miss out!

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