Employees Need More Help With Health Benefit Decisions

They say their employers don’t provide enough educational resources, but plan sponsors can rectify this.

Alegeus’ 2021 “Post-Open Enrollment Survey” shows that workers are struggling to make the right benefit enrollment decisions.

While 36% of survey respondents said COVID-19 caused them to look more closely at their health plan options, 63% simply enrolled in the same plan as the prior year.

A mere 43% rated their open enrollment experience as “positive.” Forty-eight percent said their employer did not provide them with enough educational resources to prepare them for enrollment decisions. Only four in 10 said they felt prepared to make decisions regarding their health care plan.

Employees also struggle with understanding and predicting health care costs, with 21% saying they could not figure out out-of-pocket costs or determine the optimal contribution amount, and 20% said they couldn’t determine which option would be best for them and their family. Another 10% said they just did not understand the options presented to them.

However, 43% decided to enroll in a flexible savings account (FSA), health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), and 13% opted into a new or different type of account for the first time.

Despite these struggles, 76% of consumers said they ultimately felt at least somewhat confident they had chosen the right health plan for them.

Brian Colburn, senior vice president, corporate development and strategy at Alegeus, tells PLANSPONSOR there are several things plan sponsors can do to better educate participants about the health care plan choices available to them and help them make the best choice for themselves and their family.

“Our survey found that 48% of workers did not feel they received the right guidance from their employer about their health care plan benefits, and nine out of 10 employees say they don’t understand health care in general. The first thing plan sponsors can do is remove the inertia most workers have when it comes to open enrollment by making participating in open enrollment education mandatory,” Colburn says. “Make it opt-out, not opt-in, because most people don’t want to participate in these programs. They should assume that everybody really needs to participate. Employers typically put this on the calendar and leave it up to the whims of their employees to attend or not.”

Colburn adds that plan sponsors can provide incentives for participating. “It is likely that this will convince a lot of people to show up, and many of them will learn that they have the wrong plan. And, at these meetings, the employer should ensure that there are multiple touchpoints for benefits advisers to help the workers through the decision process,” he says.

The open enrollment process must also include educational digital tools, Colburn says. “These are great because they provide an opportunity for people, offline or outside of work, to input information about themselves, which will guide them to the plan that is best for them,” he says. “We still see people choosing the highest priced plan because they think it is the best quality, but it may actually not be the best fit for someone.”