Employees say that because they’re increasingly responsible for more of their health care costs, they have higher expectations of their health insurance and benefits selection/enrollment experience, including access to benefit experts and online tools for research and enrollment. Advisers should be working with employers to determine the best tools for an employer’s workforce.

Most employees (89%) at least somewhat agree they expect more decision-making tools and support during their open enrollment/selection experience, according to the 2015 Aflac Workforces Open Enrollment Survey. But the research also found many tools useful for employees may not be made available by their employers, including access to benefit experts.

Benefit advisers should work with employers to understand the importance of expert advice and support, including that it leads to increased satisfaction with the enrollment experience for their employees.

More than half (52%) of employees said the opportunity to speak to a benefit expert at the company is helpful, but only 39% of employers offer such assistance, the Aflac survey found. Further, 58% of employees said the opportunity to speak to a provider representative is helpful, but only 36% of employers offered the opportunity to do so.

Adviser help could be especially beneficial to employees who may use only one or two factors to choose medical plans, rather than understanding the plan’s full impact on an employee or employee’s family.

Nearly one-third (30%) of workers say monthly premiums are the most important factor they consider when selecting their major medical plan each year, while almost 1 in 4 (23%) say that they are most concerned with whether their doctors/health providers participate in the plan. Although potentially high costs of coinsurance and deductibles can present significant risk to personal and family finances, only 16% view the percentage of coinsurance they'll pay for health care services as the most important factor. Just 14% say it's the amount of the annual deductible, the survey found.

"Despite the shift to more consumer-directed health care, U.S. workers are still not moved by the full financial consequences of their health insurance choices during open enrollment," says Matthew Owenby, senior vice president, chief human resources officer at Aflac. "In a perfect world, workers would weigh not only the monthly cost of an insurance plan, but also how much of the total cost of their health care they'll be responsible for to cover any unexpected out-of-pocket costs. In a sense, they are rolling the dice with their financial future."

Decision tools

Advisers should also identify tools that employees find useful for decision-making and work with employers to offer those resources employees want. The Aflac study also found that many of the tools employees themselves identify as useful are also often not made available by their employer.

For example, 66% of employees said they found brochures or other printed information about their benefits helpful, yet only 50% of employers offered such materials.

Most employees (66%) also said a summary of the previous year’s expenses and medical claims is useful, but a mere 26% of employers offered such information. These tools are especially useful for expanding an employee’s research into the plans and gaining a better understanding about the plan details in full.

"By spending more time researching their options in order to better understand what the insurance plan pays for and what they're liable for, consumers can make better choices and be better prepared for a serious health event,” says Owenby. “Employers can help too by providing additional options like a health savings account and voluntary insurance to help employees pay for the deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.”

Online enrollment

Online enrollment continues to be a favorable method for enrollment, the survey also found. Sixty-two percent of employees in 2015 say they enrolled in their benefits online, up from 46% in 2011. Employees also tend to prefer this method, followed by enrolling by paper and face to face.

Traditional enrollment methods still have an important place in the benefits decision process, however, the Aflac report says.

For instance, small businesses with fewer than 100 employees are more likely to say face to face enrollment methods are most effective for their employees. And employees from the silent generation (those who are 69 and older) appear to be adapting to online enrollment methods, but at a slower rate than younger generations.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access