How to get the most out of open enrollment

(BPT) - The COVID-19 pandemic means as a parent, you may be juggling your new roles of part-time remote teacher, IT technician and cafeteria chef along with your normal work responsibilities. The physical, mental, and for some, financial toll of this arrangement has left many feeling exhausted and stressed.

In fact, MetLife’s recent study on mental health found that having kids at home or no access to childcare or in-person schooling is the biggest single source of stress for parents of kids under 12 (52%) after fear of contracting the virus or a friend/family member contracting the virus (66%). Compounded by rising financial anxieties from possible financial setbacks, many parents are looking to benefits provided by their employer during open enrollment — the period of time wherein U.S. employees can make changes to their health insurance coverage and enroll in other insurance benefits — to build financial strength and help prepare for the unexpected.

This may be why, according to MetLife’s 2020 open enrollment survey, two-thirds (66%) of parents with kids under age 12 feel that open enrollment is more important this year than last year, and almost 60% plan to spend a greater amount of time selecting their benefits.

Setting aside time to prepare for open enrollment may seem overwhelming with all that’s going on now — particularly for parents with kids at home — but since changes to benefits are not available throughout the year outside of major life events, such as getting married, divorced or having a baby, it’s important to make it a priority. Fortunately, you can get started with three simple steps:

1. Pick benefits best suited to your family.

Even if you’re happy with the coverage you have, don’t assume you can set it and forget it. Employers often introduce new benefit offerings, and plan benefits can shift (like changes to dentists participating in the network or prescription medication coverage).

Start by evaluating what you’ve spent for healthcare over the last few years and think about any significant expenses you expect to incur in the coming year, such as the birth of a baby or braces for your teenager.

Next, read the information provided by your company to see what’s new for 2021. Some companies are now offering additional access to telemedicine or other mental health benefits. Perhaps your family has adopted a pet during the pandemic? Many employers offer pet insurance, which can help pet parents offset costs for vet visits. By taking the time to properly evaluate the plans your company offers, you can save hundreds — or even more — every year.

2. Explore new ways to protect against unexpected, out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Many employers offer a wide array of benefits — beyond medical, dental and vision coverage — that can close potential financial gaps and help parents safeguard their incomes from the unexpected. Critical illness or hospital indemnity plans help protect against unforeseen out-of-pocket costs by providing a lump sum payout if you are diagnosed with certain illnesses or hospitalized. Parents may also look at incorporating health savings or flexible spending accounts that allow you to use pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to childcare and healthcare, as well as commuting costs, which reduce taxable income and earn interest.

Finally, legal plans provide access to a wide network of attorneys, for a limited additional charge, if any. These professionals can help prepare critical documents, such as wills and estate plans, which are important for new parents, as well as powers of attorney or advance health care directives, which are important when a child turns 18 and heads off to college.

3. Maximize your savings.

The pandemic and its many financial aftershocks have exposed a vulnerability we already knew existed: Americans simply don’t save enough. Therefore, while retirement savings can usually be adjusted throughout the year, open enrollment is a good time to reevaluate and make sure that, if your company matches employee contributions to retirement accounts, you are saving at least the minimum percentage to earn the match. If not, you’re leaving money on the table.

As enrolling in new benefits plays a direct role in your monthly expenses, it’s an opportune time to begin building your savings. Automate your savings by either having a portion of your paycheck directly deposited into your savings account or by setting up regular transfers from your checking to your savings. Automatically moving money to your savings means it will be there when you need it — which can help quell parents’ financial anxieties steadily throughout the year.

Employee benefits, at the most basic level, are provided to help improve your physical and financial well-being. Spending time reviewing benefit options and choices now can, in turn, help to alleviate stress later, giving parents — and all employees — more time to focus on their families. Get started now and help make sure your family is in the best possible position to have a healthy, financially secure new year.

To learn more about making open enrollment decisions and how to maximize your benefits, visit: metlife.com/openenrollment.

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