Many employees in dark about their health insurance policies

11/16/2013 6:46 PM

11/17/2013 12:14 AM

American workers aren’t doing their part to educate themselves about different options for health care plans and it is beginning to show at annual enrollment time, according to a new survey.

“You wouldn’t buy a car before test driving it and finding out what you like about it,” said Dana Bagwell, director of benefits communication and education at Columbia-based Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co., which recently conducted the survey of nearly 400 employee benefits counselors.

Health care has been in the spotlight this year with the new federal health care law rollout. But the majority of Americans won’t sign up under the Affordable Care Act since many have insurance through their employers or another program, such as Medicaid.

Colonial Life, which represents 3 million working Americans and their families, is working to help educate employees on which health benefit plan suits them, as annual enrollment is underway at many companies this month. The company polled the benefits counselors about the top mistakes they see employees make during their annual benefits enrollment.

The majority – 81 percent of survey respondents – say that the most common problem among employees is assuming they don’t need the benefits offered by employers without first consulting one-on-one with a benefits counselor.

“Some folks really need to talk to someone,” Bagwell said. “Once they have had that one-on-one benefits counseling, they feel that they are comfortable in having those conversations on an annual basis.”

Bagwell has worked with Colonial Life for 27 years and says that as the health benefits landscape has evolved, employees simply have not adapted to the changes.

“Often they are handed a packet of information that they need to learn from on their own. There is a responsibility put on the employee to educate themselves on the material and insurance language. Benefits counselors are there to help them determine the best plan for them,” Bagwell said.

Other trouble spots that benefits counselors find common:

•  69 percent of employees don’t read benefits information before enrolling
•  69 percent of employees don’t know what benefits they have and what they cost
•  67 percent of employees don’t consult with their spouses to determine the best benefits plan for their families
•  66 percent of employees assume that new benefit plans are unaffordable without seeing any prices.

Adding to the lack of preparation for annual benefits enrollment, 58 percent of employees did not attend informational meetings held by employers.

“Some people think they know what they want and they are just looking for the piece of paper to sign saying that want this or that,” Bagwell said. “This increases the demand for intense communication.”

However, Colonial Life has found through post-enrollment surveys that 98 percent of employees recognize the importance of one-on-one counseling sessions. Further results showed that 97 percent of employees who went through benefits counseling said that the session significantly improved their understanding of benefit plans.

No matter the size of the company, employers can offer a level of support for their employees, Bagwell said.

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