Coivd-19 Pandemic Puts Focus on Health Benefits Enrollment Season

Coivd-19 Pandemic Puts Focus on Health Benefits Enrollment Season

Survey finds 49% of employees to spend more time researching their benefit options this year
A woman at a doctors office

Every year, workers make changes to their benefits options during open enrollment season. But this time around, the COVID-19 pandemic had raised the importance of the annual process.

In a typical open enrollment period, 92% of employees select the same benefits as they did the previous year, and they spend, on average, 33 minutes to complete the task. However, a new survey by supplemental insurance provider Aflac shows that this year, nearly half (49%) plan to spend more time researching their health insurance options because of the pandemic.

With employees feeling additional financial and emotional strain due to the coronavirus crisis, they are looking to their employers for help.

Employees want more options

A previous survey found that some workers have become less satisfied with their company benefits options since the coronavirus outbreak began. Many want more assurances that their employers will keep them safe.

According to the Aflac survey, 63% of employees expect their benefits options this year to include at least one expanded benefit designed specifically to help them feel more comfortable working on-site amid the pandemic. Specifically:

  • 27% expect coverage for all medical costs, including deductibles, in case of illness
  • 26% expect expanded major medical health insurance coverage
  • 26% expect telemedicine options
  • 26% expect mental health benefits
  • 23% expect to be offered supplemental insurance options, such as short-term disability
  • 17% expect help with bill negotiation

At the same time, 45% of employees surveyed said they were either “very” or “extremely” interested in pandemic insurance options to help protect their income.

Those between the ages of 24 and 39 were most interested in insurance options to protect their income, with 58% saying they were “very” or “extremely” interested. Also expressing this view were 45% of respondents ages 18-23 and 35% of respondents 40 and over.

Virtual wellness benefits on the rise

So how are employers adjusting their benefits offerings to the pandemic? More than 2 in 5 (43%) said they were offering telemedicine to their staff, up from 29% the year before. On top of that, 41% said they were offering web-based resources to promote healthy living.

The enrollment process itself has also taken a virtual turn, as 62% of employers said they have offered self-service online enrollment, and 84% of those who have called it “extremely” or “very” effective.

In another sign of the times, 37% of employers are offering free testing for the COVID-19 virus or its antibodies, making testing the fifth-most popular wellness benefit.

However, businesses have their own struggles to contend with during the pandemic, with one of the biggest being costs. Some employers have even cut payroll in recent months in order to save money.

According to the Aflac survey, more than half of employers (52%) said rising health insurance costs had kept them from being able to raise employee salaries. On top of that:

  • 19% said they increased employee co-pays or employees’ share of premium costs in 2020
  • 15% of employers that currently offer health benefits said they can’t continue to sustain the costs of their programs moving forward

Methodology: Aflac commissioned market research firm Kantar to survey 1,200 employers between June 12-30, 2020, as well as 2,000 employees between July 7-21, 2020.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.