Employees Confused and Stressed About Selecting Health Benefits

More than half of employees working for companies offering health insurance say they would prefer assistance from their employers when choosing their health plans, according to a new report.

Nearly half (49%) of employees eligible for employer-sponsored benefits say making health insurance decisions is “always stressful,” according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll and published in a new report by technology firm Jellyvision.  

The research found that 41% of employees find their companies’ open-enrollment process “very confusing,” and only 34% say they pay attention to all the material provided to them about their benefits. And while 52% of employees found their companies’ benefits communications “informative,” researchers note that “others use more critical language, calling their benefits communication complex (18%), disappointing (15%), boring (10%), or a waste (7%).”

Ineffective communication strategies can mean that some employees are misinformed about key aspects of their benefits options potentially hindering them from making the best decisions. The survey found that 20% of employees regret the benefits choices they make.  

“One of the most important things we learned from this data,” says Jellyvision CEO Amanda Lannert “is employees aren’t getting enough from their current benefits communication to be fully empowered to make smart decisions. For instance, 68% of employees whose company offers a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) say the HDHP feels more expensive than other options. That kind of thinking misses the point, and it’s helpful to no one.”

The research also found that only about half of employees know their out-of-pocket maximums (53%) or their employers’ contributions to the costs of health insurance (47%). This is important to note considering research that indicates health care costs for employers is rising.

“These numbers represent a huge opportunity for employers,” adds Lannert. “First, the focus on deductible totals versus the total health plan cost may have many employees either making the wrong health-plan decision for their situations or making the right decision while thinking it’s the wrong one. If employers can better communicate that, they’ll have a happier – and healthier – workforce.”          

NEXT: How Employees Prefer Information

The research also offered insights into how employees prefer to consume health benefits information. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they want material about employer-sponsored health benefits electronically, followed by print (54%), live group presentations (30%), personal consultations (30%) and benefits fairs (21%). One percent said “other,” and only 3% said they would rather figure it out on their own.  

However, researchers also emphasized that the content in this material can be equally as important as its delivery. In its report, Jellyvison notes “Part of what makes navigating health insurance and other benefits topics so challenging for most people is all the incomprehensible jargon … While those of us who are exposed to the jargon all the time understand it, employees who only deal with it once a year can find it overwhelming. Whether you’re providing plan information to employees or promoting helpful information sessions, tools, or resources, be sure to use simple, conversational English so you can make your content easy to love.”

However, 62% of employees say they trust the information provided by their employers more than the information offered through their health insurance providers. Employees are also willing to commit effort to understanding what their employers have to say about their benefits, the research found. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they spend either “a great deal” or “a lot” of time understanding their health care benefits.

The study found that only 10% of employees say their HDHP offers “great coverage.” The report also noted that “employees used negative terms like ‘risky’ (30%) and ‘disappointing’ (19%) more frequently than positive terms like ‘affordable’ (18%) and ‘a good value’ (17%).”

These findings are from “What Your Employees Think About Your Benefits Communication,” a joint report by Harris Poll and Jellyvision.