As the leaves transform into inviting shades of yellow and red, and the cold rolls in with the promise of winter, it should serve as a reminder that an important time of the year is upon us. And I’m not talking about the holiday season.

Fourth quarter is open enrollment season for health care insurance for individuals and most small groups — the time of the year when you can choose a health care provider to give you, your family and your employees the care and coverage they need to keep them healthy in 2016.

Choosing the right plan is one of the most important health care and financial decisions you can make.

Here are some important areas you should consider as you make this important decision.

Review past experiences

Look at your current health plan. Are you satisfied with the level of service and support you receive? What do you like or maybe want to change?

Does your plan provide healthy workplace options or a wellness program for your employees? Many employers offer insurance to retain and attract quality employees — does your health plan support this goal?

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Ask your employees how their plan is working for them. Write out a list of pros and cons. It’ll help you see what you do and don’t like, and can give you an idea of what you’re looking for.

Compare plans

Genetics and lifestyle choices increase the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, which can have a negative effect on your employees’ lives and can raise your premiums. They also make it harder to be productive, lead to more sick days and increase workers’ compensation costs.

Having a health plan that not only supports, but also provides programs that can help achieve positive outcomes illustrates the value of the care you and your employees are receiving.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance ranks health plans based on a number of factors including prevention and treatment. See where your health plan ranks at

Estimate needs

Predicting the future isn’t easy. Start by looking at the past year. Did anything change for you or your employees in regards to health? For instance, maybe you’ve developed a chronic condition like diabetes that might require more care or prescriptions. Make sure your plan makes it convenient to access this increased level of care.

Health care in the digital age

We’re all busy running in a million directions. You and your employees should be able to have easy and fast access to physicians and health information, making it convenient to manage health whether it’s on the weekend or during the work week.

Look for a plan that fits your and your employees’ needs. Can you email your doctor? Can you refill prescriptions on your smartphone?

This kind of convenience means less time running around and more time focusing on the things that matter.

Cost and value

When searching for a plan and comparing prices, look at the total value you’re getting in terms of services and costs. What services are provided? What are the co-pays for office visits, hospital visits and prescription drugs? What is the deductible?

Do you want to offer a mix of plan combinations to ensure that the diverse health and financial needs of your employees are met?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be prepared to find the health plan that’s right for you and the people who work for you.

Open enrollment for individuals lasts from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, 2016, but don’t wait to start navigating the many complex decisions that go into choosing a plan. You want to make sure your employees are getting the care they need to help keep your business running smoothly.

Choosing the right health plan for you and your employees may take a little time, but you’ll find it’s definitely time well spent.

Erin Clay, small group account executive for Kaiser Permanente in Southern Colorado, can be reached at 867-2129 or