4 tips for health insurance open enrollment

3. Consider your health care needs.

Buy only what you need, so you can save on premiums. "A plan with robust maternity coverage may not be the best match for singles," says McLean. "If you don't care about brand-name drugs, go for a plan that covers only generic drugs."

However, if you're expecting significant health care changes next year, such as childbirth or major surgery, make sure your plan adequately covers those events, or be prepared to pay the deductible.

Metcalf suggests asking whether you're better off with a health maintenance organization, or HMO, or a preferred provider organization, or PPO. In an HMO, your share of medical costs is mainly upfront copays, while PPOs have more complicated bills and claims. HMOs have smaller networks of doctors, but they're more likely to be held accountable for quality of care. "However, if you need access to a specialist or have college-age kids living across the country, PPOs offer a broader choice," she says.

If it's important to you to keep seeing your regular doctors, be sure they accept the plan you're considering as plan networks change frequently.

4. Ask your employer about wellness programs.

More employers are rolling out wellness programs and offering to reward employees who stay healthy in order to keep their group medical costs low, says McLean. For example, you could get a financial reward or a discount on premiums for participating in a weight loss program or smoking-cessation classes.

"Ask your HR department if they'll be rolling out any wellness programs in 2012," says McLean. "If you don't participate, you may be leaving money on the table."

Regardless of the health insurance plan you choose for 2012, be sure to track all of your health care costs, including premiums, copays and drug expenses, throughout the year. Good record keeping will help you evaluate your health care needs for open enrollment in 2013.


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