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Open enrollment is the time of the year when you can make changes to the insurance coverage you get through your job. It generally takes place once a year for a short period each fall or spring.

For the most part, you can only make changes to your plan during open enrollment. It's an important deadline. If you miss it, you may be stuck with coverage that doesn't match your needs or budget.

Here are some important issues to consider when choosing next year's plan:

Does your current plan still measure up? You may be happy with the coverage you have now and want to stay with it. But make sure you carefully review the updated terms of your plan. That way you won't be surprised by any changes to benefits, deductibles, or other parts of coverage that you do not want or need.

If both you and your spouse or partner work, does it make sense to share a plan? Or should you each keep the individual plans that your employers offer? It's important that you review plans from each employer to see which offers the better, more affordable plan.

Individual plans, which you can customize to your health needs, have become a more affordable option thanks to tax laws that let you lower your income taxes by deducting your premium from your taxable income.

Do others recommend the plan you are considering? Look into organizations that rate insurance companies. For example, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a health care nonprofit, ranks more than 500 private health plans.

Which plans cover the doctors and services you want or need? If you like the doctor that you see now, make sure he or she is in your plan's network. If not, your doctor will likely cost you more.

If you use alternative therapies such as acupuncture, look for a plan that covers them.

Coverage for prescription drugs, mental health care, and other services that may be important to you will vary from plan to plan.

Which plans are best for your budget? Add up your health care expenses from the last few years to help you predict your costs for the coming year. You should also consider any new health care needs that have been identified for the upcoming year. Which of the health plans most closely match your estimate? Consider things like:

  • Deductibles
  • Monthly premiums
  • Co-pays and other expenses that aren't covered by insurance

Does your employer or plan offer wellness incentives programs? These programs reward people for losing weight, quitting smoking, and other efforts to better their health and prevent disease. You may earn money to spend on health care costs or you may pay less for your health plan.