10-2-13 3:29 PM EDT | Email Article

America’s workers aren’t doing enough to learn about their benefits options and coverage gaps — and it’s hurting them at annual enrollment time.

That’s the opinion of hundreds of benefits enrollment experts surveyed recently by Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. The company surveyed nearly 400 employee benefits counselors — the majority of them veterans with five or more years of experience in the benefits industry — about the top mistakes they see employees make during their annual benefits enrollment.

Topping the list was employees assuming they don’t need the benefits being offered without first talking with a benefits counselor. This misstep was cited by 81 percent of survey respondents.

“You don’t go to court without your lawyer’s advice or invest in the stock market without an advisor’s input, so why go to enroll in your benefits without a professional’s advice?” a survey respondent wrote.

Mistakes number two through five were closely knotted in the rankings and also related to lack of information:

  • Not reading the benefits information before the enrollment — 69 percent.
  • Not knowing what benefits they currently have and what they cost — 69 percent.
  • Forgetting to talk with their spouse about their family’s needs before the enrollment — 67 percent.
  • Assuming the cost of a new benefit is unaffordable without seeing any prices — 66 percent.

“This is the one time you have to take control of how you want to provide for your family and yourself,” a survey respondent advised. “Take time to talk with your spouse and understand how the benefits can really help your family.”

The most commonly cited enrollment errors rounding out the top seven also involved poor preparation and not taking advantage of educational resources:

  • Not attending the group informational meeting — 58 percent.
  • Not taking time to understand the upcoming changes in their benefits plan — 50 percent.

“Personal knowledge is power,” a respondent wrote. “When a crisis happens, you’ll know how to protect your income and savings. Regardless of health care reform, out-of-pocket medical expenses aren’t going away.”

Many employers — especially those offering voluntary insurance options as part of the annual enrollment — give workers the opportunity to meet one-to-one with a benefits expert for a personalized counseling session. And employees who take advantage of these sessions are overwhelmingly positive about them. Post-enrollment surveys by Colonial Life show 98 percent of employees who participated in a one-to-one session said it was important, and 97 percent said the session improved or significantly improved their understanding of their benefits.*

“Sit down with someone who can help you make good decisions,” one respondent advised. “Don’t go this alone. There are people who can help you understand so you can make the best decision, get the coverage that best suits you and still keep as much money as possible in your pocket.”

* Colonial Life post-enrollment survey, January 2013

About Colonial Life

Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, cancer, critical illness and supplemental health insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support more than 79,000 businesses and organizations, representing more than 3 million working Americans and their families. For more information visit www.coloniallife.com or connect with the company at www.facebook.com/coloniallifebenefits, www.twitter.com/coloniallife and www.linkedin.com/company/colonial-life.

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