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During open enrollment, encourage use of benefits information resources
This open enrollment season, employees have a message for employers about their benefits: Tell us more, please.
Only 33 percent of employees who were surveyed at the end of the 2013 open enrollment season last December rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good—a drop from 2012 (37 percent) and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009. Moreover, last year nearly 3 in 10 respondents (27 percent) rated their benefits education as fair or poor.
The survey of 1,521 working adults was sponsored by Unum, a disability insurance provider.
The findings show the effect that a good benefits education program has on workplace satisfaction. For instance:
• 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rated their employer as excellent or very good.
• Only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor rated their employer as excellent or very good.
As an example of failed communications, nearly half (48 percent) of workers whose employers offered long- or short-term disability insurance said no one explained disability insurance to them.
But when given the information they need to make informed decisions about their benefits, employees tended to rate their benefits education higher. Among the 70 percent of employees whose companies offered long- or short-term disability insurance and who received education on disability insurance, 83 percent rated their benefits education positively.
“It’s vital for employers to provide the right tools and information for employees so they can understand their benefits options and choose the coverage that is right for them,” Bill Dalicandro, vice president of Unum’s consumer solutions group, said in a news release.
“Even if employees don’t have a particularly good benefits package, those who say they received quality education about the benefits they are offered are far more likely to consider their employer a very good place to work,” he added.
Additional research findings also highlight the importance of effective benefits education and communications during open enrollment.
For instance, although choosing the right health insurance plan may be one of the most important decisions Americans make, 41 percent of employees spent 15 minutes or less researching their benefit options during the 2013 open enrollment season, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) spent five minutes or less, according to the newly released 2014 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey.
While employees in the U.S. paid an average of $4,565 a year in premiums last year for an employer-sponsored health plan, the 15 minutes allocated to benefits selections paled in comparison to the time typically spent by American workers to:
• Research new car purchases—10 hours.
• Plan family vacations—five hours.
• Shop for new computers—four hours.
• Decide what television to buy—two hours.
Those who don’t set aside time to research their insurance options may make hasty benefits decisions and end up wasting money. The Aflac survey found that 4 in 10 workers waste up to $750 each year on mistakes with their insurance benefits.
The survey also revealed:
• Most workers (73 percent) only sometimes, rarely or never understand everything that is covered by their policy.
• More than 6 out of 10 workers (64 percent) sometimes, rarely or never understand changes in their coverage.
• 64 percent disagree or only somewhat agree that they are more prepared for open enrollment this year compared to last year.
“It’s important for workers to educate themselves about their health care options to ensure they select the right insurance coverage that provides protection and avoids costly mistakes down the road,” said Matthew Owenby, vice president of HR at Aflac. To minimize confusion during the benefits selection process, encourage employees take advantage of the benefits education resources available to them, he advised, by including these suggestions in employee’s open enrollment communications:
•Carefully review and compare all available benefits information. Take time to look up terms you don’t understand such as voluntary insurance, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and others.
•Understand the financial implications your choices have on your budget. In addition to monthly premiums, make sure you can afford the yearly deductible costs:
-- If a high deductible looks like it may be a burden, choose a plan with a slightly higher monthly premium and a lower deductible that is easier to manage, if that option is available.
-- If selecting a high-deductible plan, consider any employer contributions to a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), if provided.
•Ask your employer to arrange meetings with health care insurance agents or brokers to answer questions.
•Attend onsite seminars, participate in webinars and read the relevant education materials.
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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