Anne thought back to how 2020 started. Everyone so busy being “connected” 24/7 with smartphones and smart-everything. The economy humming, and jobs seeming pretty secure. Then the Covid-19 virus arrived. In what seemed like weeks, everything changed. The economy virtually halted, and job security felt less assured.

Anne had watched as friends lost jobs and benefits – and were forced to turn to unemployment and savings. Suddenly, employee benefits took on a whole new meaning.

Eight months later, Anne is grateful to still have a job still and work from home. She has realized that the rapidly approaching year-end is a good time to review her employee benefits. Today, Anne knows no one is exempt from illness or loss. She has a new sense of vulnerability.

The world of employee benefits can feel complicated and hard to understand. But if coronavirus has taught us one thing, it’s that no one can afford to take anything for granted anymore.

Employers’ year-end open enrollment periods allow workers to adjust their health insurance and other benefit elections. You may find new or changed employer-paid benefits, tax-saving opportunities or money to be saved by dropping coverage you don’t use.

Here are some steps to take when preparing to discuss your benefits.

Understanding your priorities

Before even considering what employer benefits are available and digging into their details, your first step is to look at how life and circumstances have changed this year in your family, work, life and priorities. Has one income been lost? Has a child aged out of your health insurance plan? Does life insurance seem to make sense for the first time?

Look at your budget. How have your income and expenses changed over the past year? (Many are finding they are putting more money in savings because spontaneous spending has gone down. Others are finding that limited entertainment options have led to online buying out of sheer boredom.) Knowing your cash availability is essential before looking at how you want additional or fewer deductions to affect your take-home pay.

Which employee benefits are worth fighting for?

Companies used to offer basic benefits packages: medical, dental, prescription drug plans and 401(k)s. But if HR professionals were dealing with some 60 perks 20 years ago, today they deal with hundreds. The question is: which are available through your employer and – more important – which ones will you use.

Is time off for family emergencies more critical right now than a generous 401(k) matching program? How essential is a robust healthcare package to your age and with your family’s needs? Has a new baby or a new mortgage made life insurance more vital? 

There may be some benefits available that you never thought of requesting and others you are receiving that have little value (or too little value for the cost). Or your employer may have added or removed benefits due to the realities of working under coronavirus conditions.

Discuss your health insurance coverage

Now’s the time to reevaluate just how beneficial your health plan really is. Especially if you can choose among several plans, be sure to get a copy of what the plans include in terms of premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance. (If need be, do a little online research to understand precisely how those affect you.).

Remember that low premiums aren’t everything. It’s more important to look at how you’ve used your insurance in the past year, where the out-of-pocket costs came from and how you expect to use it this coming year. A low premium with a high deductible that you never reach may not save you money if you and your family have ongoing medical expenses.

If you rarely used your health insurance, the low premiums of a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) may be preferable. (The balance in your HSA is carried forward from year to year, much like an IRA that you can use in the future when you have higher health expenses.) The HSA is one of the best deals in the tax code.

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