Open Enrollment: Maximize Your Benefits

By Wendy Turk


It’s that time of year—the leaves are changing color (sort of, in Los Angeles), the kids are back in school, and there is pumpkin spice in absolutely everything! That also means it’s Open Enrollment season at work, which means time for either blindly clicking on options, or asking lots of questions to understand what everything means. That made me think, why not make a quick list to help explain what each item is, and whether you should opt in or out, or somewhere in between.

Health Benefits
Health insurance is generally the biggest benefit most people are enrolling in during open enrollment. With health costs ever-increasing, and employees paying a larger share for their own healthcare, what are some ways to maximize your employers’ offerings? The main questions to ask are: How often do you need the doctor? Do you see specialists? Do you take medication regularly? Are you in a position to afford a medical emergency?

If you typically have low medical expenses—maybe one annual well-visit and a couple of additional doctor’s visits per year—a high deductible health plan (HDHP) may be a good option for you. An HDHP features higher annual deductibles (for 2018, a minimum of $1,350 for self and $2,700 for family coverage) than traditional health plans. With the exception of preventive care, covered employees must meet the annual deductible before the plan pays benefits. HDHPs, however, may have significantly lower premiums than other traditional plans.

You’ll also qualify to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs may be opened by employees who enroll in a high-deductible health plan. You can open one even if your employer doesn’t offer an HSA option within their benefits. Employees can put money in an HSA up to an annual limit set by the government (for 2018, the limit is $3,450 for self-only coverage and $6,900 for family coverage), using pre-tax dollars. Employers may also contribute funds to these accounts within the prescribed limit. HSA funds may be used, tax-free, to pay for qualified medical expenses whether or not the deductible has been met. HSAs are individually owned and the account remains with an employee after employment ends so they are not use-it-or lose-it plans.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) are another employee benefit offering that can be used for health care costs, in addition to child care, depending on the benefit offerings. FSAs are tax-deductible and tax-free when used for qualified health and dependent care expenses. Health FSAs can be used for qualified health expenses, much like an HSA, but you don’t need a high-deductible health plan to qualify. There are also dependent-care FSAs, which allow funds to be used for qualified dependent-care, such as preschool, daycare, or after-school care. The current limit for the health FSA is $2600/yr., and $5000/yr. for health and dependent care FSAs. However, FSAs are use-it or lose-it plans, so any funds remaining in the plan at year-end is forfeited. This means you’ll need to estimate your spending needs before electing to use an FSA plan.

Disability Insurance
If your employer offers Disability Insurance, typically the cost is much cheaper than if you tried to obtain the same insurance on your own. Disability insurance pays part of your income, typically up to 60%, if you can’t work because of an illness or injury. In California, we all pay into short-term disability (less than one year) as a state benefit, but many employers offer additional Long Term Disability as well. Long term disability benefits typically pay when you’re disabled for more than 6 months to a year, and can extend for several years or more, depending on your coverage.

While many think disability is unlikely, but according to the Social Security Administration, more than one in four 20-year-olds will experience a disability for 90 days or more before they reach age 67. For most people, the ability to work is you greatest asset, and only disability insurance can help protect it.

Life Insurance

Many employers offer group life insurance as part of a benefit package as well. This may range from a small amount to several multiples of salary. If you’re offered the option to take several multiples of salary for a couple of dollars per paycheck, this will be the most affordable way to obtain more life insurance. If, however, you need additional coverage (think $1,000,000 or more), your workplace life insurance may not be the best deal. It may be better to look for your own life insurance plan not only for affordability, but also for portability. A significant thing to note about most employers’ life insurance is that you’ll likely lose coverage when you leave that employer, so depending on your age and insurance need, a mixture of workplace insurance as well as your own policy may keep you best protected.

As always, there are many nuances to employee benefits and open enrollment that may apply to some employers, but not all. If you have specific questions, ask your financial planner: that’s what we’re here for!

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA( (

Investment advice offered through Gerber Kawasaki Inc, a registered investment advisor. Gerber Kawasaki and Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management are separate entities from LPL Financial.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which course of action may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Gerber Kawasaki, 2716 Ocean Park Blvd. #2022 Santa Monica, CA 90405. Contact us at (310) 441-9393