Open enrollment is fast approaching at Maximus. This time of year can be challenging for human resources teams and employees. For our benefits team, it means working with benefits management vendors, building out promotional materials, and changing all of our reference documents. For employees, open enrollment means facing the daunting task of understanding what is changing and what that means for them and their families.
It's no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic created a heightened focus on employer health benefits, especially mental health and wellness. Traditionally, few employees understand the benefits they opt into – or out of – because of the complexity and variety of available options. Employees must take the time to know and understand what plans will best suit them and their families.
The top three things to understand about employee benefits:
- Understand your health insurance plan.
At a minimum, employees should know their premiums, copays, coinsurance, deductibles, and whether or not the plan has a Health Savings Account. Knowing these details and what they mean enables employees to think about their situations and make better decisions about what is right for them.
- You can price shop for healthcare.
Employees are always encouraged to look at the cost of all plan options and external plans, such as a spouse's plan, to see which plan will meet each family's needs. Employees can and should also shop around to understand what their medical procedures or surgeries might cost them. Often, they go to whatever health facility their doctor recommends, but if there are other options, their overall costs may be less. In 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made it mandatory for providers to post their costs. It takes time, but you are always better off looking for lower-cost, higher-quality care.
- Maximize your 401(k) contributions.
A pension is so rare today that we all need to consider saving for retirement while we are healthy enough to work. A 401(k) is the most tax-advantaged way to do this, and employees should understand how each percentage contributed will impact their take-home pay. Often, the impact is less than you would think. Over the past few years, rising costs and inflation have affected what people see as discretionary income. People don't realize that 401(k) contributions lower their taxable income, and most contributions don't significantly impact the amount of money they bring home each paycheck. If you've never contributed, I recommend starting with 1% of your income and setting a goal to move your contributions to 2% the next time you receive a pay increase. Maximus has made substantive changes and improvements to our benefits over the past few years. This includes implementing the Safe Harbor 401(k) program, where employee and Maximus matching contributions are vested immediately.
Human resources professionals will work hard to educate employees on their benefits options, especially as open enrollment comes closer. The challenge is conveying that complex information so that employees understand their options without learning a new language.
At Maximus, we provide education about benefits for our workforce before and during open enrollment every year, but we've found it difficult to engage employees through those activities. Employees should think of this as taking a required course at school. You will be better off because you took the time to learn.
We also provide tutors for those who need extra time and attention – these tutors come from our HR representatives. They are trained and ready to help employees make the best choices for themselves or their families. We focus our education on critical key points for an employee to have a good general understanding of what they're being offered.
Benefits change every year and employees should pay attention during open enrollment to understand any new benefits that may have been added.
We have started to enhance our benefits for the upcoming year because of our recent Global Employee Engagement Survey. Maximus listened to what our employees wanted, like paid parental leave and adoption/surrogacy assistance. Knowing you have time off available allows you to plan for your family and have time with a new child. I can say from experience that the day any parent must drop off a newborn at daycare for the first time is an emotional one. Knowing you can afford a little bit more time to stay home and bond is so important.
Benefits can be complicated to understand, but taking the time to read, listen, and learn will "benefit" you and your family for the years to come. I encourage you to take advantage of all the health and wellness benefits your company (or partner’s company) offers.