Open enrollment season, the time when millions of employees choose which benefits they want from their employer for next year, is rapidly approaching. There is a lot at stake, both financially and emotionally, for employees and their families.

Forecasting the fall

So what can employees expect for 2016? Based on a survey of large employers by the National Business Group on Health (most respondents had 10,000 employees or more), this year’s open enrollment should bring less change to employee health plan choices and more tools and resources to help them make decisions.

Here is what employees can expect during open enrollment:

  • Less change to plan offerings: Last year, many employees saw changes in their health plan offerings as more companies implemented Consumer-Directed Health Plans (CDHPs), which are high deductible plans usually tied to a health savings account. Employees can expect less disruption to the health plans choices for 2016 as the move to CDHPs has leveled off. Most large employers now offer CDHPs (83 percent in 2016, up from 81 percent this year). One in three employers (33 percent) will only offer CDHPs to their employees, which is about the same as this year.

  • Small increases in premium contributions and deductibles: Employers expect health care to increase 5 percent in 2016. Consequently, employees should expect similar increases to their premiums. Some companies will also make small increases to the percentage of premiums employees pay for individual and family coverage (one in three respondents). About 1 in 4 companies will also make small increases to deductibles.

  • More spousal surcharges: More than one in three employers (34 percent) will implement surcharges for spouses who can obtain coverage through their own employer, an increase from 29 percent this year.

  • Employer contributions more to Health Savings Accounts: The vast majority of employers will continue to make contributions to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to assist employees enrolled in CDHPs. The median employer contribution to HSAs in 2016 will be $750, up from $600 this year.  

  • Sharp increase in telehealth: Nearly 3 in 4 respondents (74 percent) plan to offer telehealth to employees, a sharp increase from 48 percent this year.

Bang for buck

While employees will not see big changes to their health benefits in 2016, there is plenty for employees to pay attention to during open enrollment to maximize their benefits. The majority of employers continue to invest in consumer decision support tools and resources to help employees navigate the health care system and understand their treatment options, price and where to go for care. Open enrollment is also the time employees have an opportunity to contribute their own money to HSAs or Flexible Spending Accounts on a tax favorable basis.

Employees may also be able to take advantage of financial incentives employers offer to participate and engage in wellness programs. Choosing benefits doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require time and careful consideration.