Every fall, workers fortunate enough to have access to employee benefit plans set aside time to go through open enrollment. They select the plans they want to enroll in for the coming year. With some plans, there may be extra selections employees can opt for. But in the end, what they select does not much matter if they don’t actually understand their choices.
Tragically, this is the case far too often. Only about half of all American workers with health insurance are confident they fully understand their healthcare costs. Meanwhile, their employers think the number is closer to three-quarters.
How can employees make wise decisions if they do not know what those decisions entail? Their open enrollment selections become little more than multiple-choice questions on an exam they are ill-prepared to take. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Employers and their brokers can team up to explain employee benefits in simple English. They only need the will to do so.
A Card and Little Else
Your average U.S. worker gets an ID card with every new benefit year. The card represents a quick and easy way to inform medical providers of a person’s insurance coverage. But beyond that, there is very little value to consumers. They don’t know their copays until the time of service. They do not know whether they will get an extra bill after the fact. They don’t know how their deductibles might ultimately affect out-of-pocket expenses.
None of this is speculation, by the way. According to the 2022-2023 Aflac WorkForces Report:
- Only 52% of U.S. workers are confident they understand their healthcare costs
- Only 57% are confident they are covered ‘very well’ against serious illness
- Only 20% are confident they are covered ‘extremely well’ against serious illness
- Some 57% report anxiety about healthcare costs above and beyond health insurance premiums.
It is clear that employees don’t really know how much financial value their health plans actually offer. They don’t know how much they could spend in the coming year, how much their insurance will actually cover, and even whether they can afford to access healthcare services.
A Startling Reality
This is a startling reality in a country that seems to place so much value on health insurance. We push so hard to get everyone covered without actually taking the time to analyze what that really means. Let’s face it, paying in excess of $10,000 in annual premiums is bad enough. Paying those premiums and still ending up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt doesn’t do much to make a person confident in their health insurance plan.
So what’s the solution? Better education. Carriers need to do a better job of educating general agencies, like BenefitMall.com. General agencies need to do a better job of educating brokers and agents. Those brokers and agents need to do a better job of educating employers and their workers.
By the time the education reaches the employee, it needs to be simplified and easy to understand. Employees need to be educated in simple English. That means short and concise sentences. It means plain English terms. It means spelling things out as though employees know absolutely nothing about health insurance – because that’s actually the case most of the time.
The next round of open enrollment selections is coming to an employer near you. Open enrollment will be here soon enough. And if employees are not properly educated, their selections will not mean much for practical purposes. They will be making blind guesses and hoping for the best.