Each year I've been in the workforce, enrolling in health insurance leaves me feeling a little more confident. I'll always remember how proud I felt enrolling in health insurance for the first time. Call me a nerd, but being off my dad's insurance felt like some sort of strange badge of honor. 

But there are a few things I've learned in the short time I've been in the workforce. Learn from my experiences: 

When interviewing for a job, ask up front. During my final interview for my first-ever professional job, the HR specialist interviewing me had a complete breakdown of health insurance benefits. For my second job...not so much. It was wonderful to see exactly how much I'd be paying and what was included because it gave me leverage for negotiating my salary. It's great to know what you'll receive up front, and don't be afraid to ask. 


If you change jobs, think about COBRA. COBRA is basically the safety net health insurance you enroll in when you lose job-based insurance. When I did change jobs, there was a 30-day non-insured period before I could enroll in health insurance. Being a dumb 20-something, I decided to just risk being uninsured during that period. Looking back, that was a serious risk. I could have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in bills if something happened. The good news: If something does happen to you healthwise, you can always get COBRA after the fact.

Get the dang FSA! Seriously, the flexible spending account (FSA) has changed my life. I don't have a lot of regularly occurring medical expenses, but I do know that I'll spend at least $200 per year on my eye exam and contact lenses. My employer takes this money out of my paycheck each pay period - pre-tax - and you can use it at any time. That way, you won't get stuck with a big medical bill at the end of the year. Your insurance provider just gives you a debit card and you swipe it at the doctor's office.


Think about your personal health situation before enrolling in different benefits. As I mentioned above, I don't have a lot of medical expenses each year. I'm pretty healthy, so I feel comfortable enrolling in a higher deductible plan. But if you have a chronic illness, you might want to rethink that. Or if you don't have eye problems, you don't need vision insurance. Just read through your enrollment elections before submitting, folks! 


Consider a HSA account. In full transparency, I do not have a health savings account (HSA). A HSA is another way to save money for future health expenses while still getting the tax benefits. To be honest, I haven't seen the need yet, but for the dual income, no kids folks, it's another great tax benefit to take advantage of while still helping you prepare for the unexpected. #adulting


Take advantage of discounts. Preventative care saves money in the long run. And that's why many insurance companies collaborate with employers to offer wellness screenings for discounts. For a simple blood draw to assess your health, you can save money on your yearly insurance bill. I'm able to save quite a bit -- $600 per year -- just for my blood draw to tell me I'm healthy or have areas to work on. You'd be surprised how many people leave this significant saving on the table for one reason or another. Just take advantage if it's available! 

As a disclaimer, we're not insurance experts, but these lessons provide a common-sense approach to understanding and maximizing your insurance benefits. It's a big investment and a lot of money, so you might as well understand it. Questions? Ask your company's HR pro. Together, we can all make smart, informed insurance decisions.