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Are You an Active Protector or a Benefit Gambler?
New Tool Offers Consumers Insight into Overall Financial and Health Protection

Chances are most consumers don’t regularly perform a “check-up” on their overall financial and health insurance protection. The exercise can be frightening, overwhelming and frankly too confusing. Given the number of families who are struggling financially from the slow economy and the transformation of the health care system that is putting greater decision-making and control in consumers’ hands, it’s time to assess your protection levels.

Whether reviewing your retirement goals, current ability to save, medical plans or other benefits, knowing exactly where you stand is crucial in identifying dangerous gaps in health care coverage or roadblocks to financial success.

Aflac has introduced a new, user-friendly tool to help consumers easily and quickly determine whether their existing insurance coverage provides adequate financial protection for anticipated and unexpected expenses. The new online Wellbeing Assessment Tool from Aflac uses extensive data and an exhaustive analysis of benefits for employees across a wide range of industries and employer size. The result is one of five profiles that offer users realistic advice and actions to consider.

ACTIVE PROTECTOR

Active Protectors, which account for 14 percent of consumers, 1 are well positioned to handle most challenges when it comes to finances or health-related events. They have built a strong foundation and financial safety net to protect their own well-being and that of their families. These consumers typically have robust health insurance plans, both employer-provided and voluntary insurance products they may have obtained on their own.

Because of comprehensive insurance coverage, their finances are protected from the high costs associated with unexpected illnesses, injuries and other serious events. Furthermore, these consumers have done an excellent job in building savings, and in maintaining good health. Lastly, Active Protectors are more realistic than most Americans when it comes to the possibility of serious health events, such as being diagnosed with a chronic illness or being in an accident.

Characteristics of an Active Protector include:

  • Maintains robust medical coverage beyond major medical that includes vision, dental and voluntary insurance plans.
  • Secures income-protecting plans such as: life, disability or accident insurance policies.
  • Contributes to their savings through 401(k) or other retirement policies, or through self-saving measures.
  • Feels significantly less stressed-out compared to other consumers.
  • Generally works for a company they feel has a reputation as a great place to work and takes care of its employees.
  • Prepares for potential unexpected medical events and for retirement.

While Active Protectors have done an excellent job in protecting their overall wellbeing, as employment and family circumstances may change, it will be important to readdress benefits and savings strategies to accommodate varying life stages or events.

FINANCIALLY VULNERABLE

Another 14 percent of consumers fall within the Financially Vulnerable. These Americans generally maintain a strong foundation of health insurance benefits, but face challenges in saving for unexpected events or retirement. Fortunately, a comprehensive health insurance package can help protect against most medical-related needs. However, the challenge for Financially Vulnerable consumers is to safeguard their financial stability against high out-of-pocket expenses not covered by major medical insurance.

A recent report by medical bills consumer consultancy Simplee says consumer medical spending is rising in 2012 faster than the rate of inflation. The average annual amount of cash U.S. families pay to cover out-of-pocket expenses is $962. 2 Large unforeseen expenses, medical or not, can often lead to bankruptcy or the need to borrow money.

Characteristics of a Financially Vulnerable consumer include:

  • Has enrolled in basic insurance plans such as, major medical, vision and dental.
  • Currently is not contributing to a 401(k) or other retirement plan.
  • Does not take advantage of Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) that are offered to them through employer.
  • Does not feel adequately prepared for retirement.
  • May have stress associated with their low confidence in their ability to cope with unexpected medical costs.

Financially Vulnerable consumers should consider enrollment in policies or plans that can help build their savings or help cope with out-of-pocket costs. For example, contributing to an FSA can be an effective budgeting tool to help manage medical-related out-of-pocket costs. Often, a lack of understanding of FSAs can deter workers from enrolling in the program. However, it is important to note the broad range of health care-related expenses that qualify, such as prescribed over-the-counter medications or some holistic therapies. Many of these consumers mistakenly believe they don’t need it if they already have health insurance, not understanding that FSAs are a supplement to their major medical plan. To learn more about how FSAs work, visit http://financialplan.about.com/cs/insuranc1/a/FlexSpendPlan.htm.



“The 2012 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey found that less than half (43 percent) of workers currently contribute to an FSA.” 3


Secondly, Financially Vulnerable consumers should consider enrolling in voluntary insurance plans that pay cash directly to policyholders to help curb out-of-pocket medical costs. During the next open enrollment period, these consumers will need to consider adding voluntary options such as critical illness, accident or hospital indemnity insurance plans to help safeguard their financial future and retirement.

BENEFITS GAMBLER

Fourteen percent of consumers are considered Benefits Gamblers. Clear skies or gray, these consumers tend to look on the bright side but are in great denial as to the possibility of the unexpected. Benefit Gamblers could be considered “middle of the road” when it comes to number of insurance policies in place and financial planning measures. However, they choose to think optimistically as to the likelihood of being diagnosed with a serious illness or having a serious accident. Because of this, many of these consumers have not considered additional policies that can specifically protect against these events financially.

Perhaps Benefit Gamblers may not be dealing with a personal health issue now, but it is important to remain aware and plan for the potential for such events. The reality is that many Americans will be faced with a serious illness or be a victim of an accident. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society Facts and Figures 2012, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. And, the National Safety Council Injury Facts 2011 says more than 38 million people—about 1 out of every 8—sought medical attention for an injury in 2009.

Characteristics of a Benefits Gambler include:

  • Has enrolled in basic insurance plans such as, major medical, vision and dental.
  • Has established a good foundation of savings through 401(k) or other retirement plans, and through personal savings.
  • Has very little stress and good peace of mind relating to their health and financial wellbeing.
  • Believes it is highly unlikely they will be diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, such as cancer or diabetes; or will experience a disabling accident.
  • Says “whether my insurance would cover everything” is the first thing they would think of if they were to experience an unexpected serious illness or accident.

Even with an average amount of savings in hand, Benefits Gamblers are still at risk of income loss in the event they become disabled or out of work. The financial impact on workers who become disabled can be staggering if they lack adequate disability insurance – often as high as 20 times a person’s annual salary. Loss of income makes it impossible to build retirement savings, and without sufficient income, workers may be forced to withdraw from their hard-earned savings to pay for current expenses.



“63 percent of Americans believe a comprehensive benefits package is important for peace of mind.” 3


Many Benefits Gamblers may assume they have coverage through their employer. However, a growing number of companies are including disability in their benefits cutbacks as they grapple with rising health costs. Benefits Gamblers should investigate the option of voluntary disability insurance policies that may be available.

FINANCIALLY ANXIOUS

Most consumers fall within the Financially Anxious segment, a full 20 percent. Those Americans who make up this group have basic benefits to cover checkups and minor medical procedures, but do not have additional insurance benefits or savings to financially handle an unexpected serious medical illness or accident. This is in part due to the fact that most Financially Anxious consumers simply aren’t content with their benefit plans because they aren’t meeting their needs or the needs of their families.

In fact, just nine percent say their insurance plans meet their families’ needs extremely well and even fewer – just eight percent – say they are extremely satisfied with their benefits package. As more organizations continue to decrease their benefit options or shift more costs to workers, it will be important for this group to seek out or encourage employers to provide alternative plans for added protection.

Characteristics of a Financially Anxious consumer include:

  • Has enrolled in basic insurance plans such as, major medical, vision and dental.
  • Lacks supplemental insurance policies that can minimize the impact of medical costs given their potentially insufficient savings to cover such expenses.
  • Is highly dissatisfied with current employer’s benefit package and its ability to meet the needs of their family.
  • Is beginning to improve their ability to save and build a nest egg for retirement.
  • Does not have peace of mind, given the possibility of unexpected events they may not be prepared for financially.

For Financially Anxious consumers, an important factor in increasing satisfaction with their benefits package is to truly understand the plans offered and to make the best selection for their family and situation. Often, workers choose the wrong level of coverage or benefits during open enrollment. In fact, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of workers say they did so during their last enrollment and another 15 percent did not check to be sure their coverage deductibles were correct or that their preferred medical professional was in the network. 3



“The average annual deductible for individual coverage in network rose 17.2 percent between 2008 and 2011 to $587, and family coverage increased 12.4 percent to $1,317, according to an annual study by Mercer. Meanwhile, deductibles for out-of-network care increased much more during that time. For individuals, the average rose to $1,084, a 27.5 percent increase, while the average for family coverage jumped 30.9 percent to $2,591.” 4


Oversights on deductibles and in-network providers are particularly costly for Financially Anxious consumers because they are already vulnerable financially. Choosing the wrong level of coverage can also leave workers under protected or paying too much for a major medical plan that doesn’t fit their situation. There are many workers who could enroll in a basic major medical plan with additional ancillary benefits plans to supplement areas that are particularly applicable to them.

For example, if a worker has a family history of serious disease such as cancer, one solution would be to supplement a major medical plan with a voluntary cancer policy or a group critical illness plan. Since critical illness payments are cash benefits, they can be used in any way workers see fit; they give employees an affordable option to help with out-of-pocket medical expenses.

BARE COVERAGE

Nearly two-in-ten consumers (17 percent) fall within the Bare Coverage segment. Although a portion of these consumers have established basic financial safeguards, the majority of Bare Coverage Americans lack even major medical insurance and have relatively no additional insurance policies. Regardless of how well they are currently protected monetarily, they remain highly vulnerable and at risk to financial hardships and even bankruptcy given their lack of major medical insurance coverage.

Many circumstances beyond consumers’ control can lead to such vulnerability, including job loss or financial issues that impede their ability to enroll in major medical. Additionally, some companies have chosen to eliminate major medical insurance altogether, despite the strong business case behind building a comprehensive benefits program. Whatever the situation, the reality for Bare Coverage consumers is that they need protection.

Characteristics of a Bare Coverage consumer include:

  • Has built an average foundation of financial protection in the form of daily and retirement savings.
  • However, lacks even the basic major medical coverage and has relatively no additional benefit policies in place.
  • Doesn’t typically consider health insurance a vital part of their financial planning.
  • Has high degree of stress associated with gaps in insurance protection.
  • Does not feel their employer “takes care of its employees” or that their benefits package currently meets the needs of their family.
  • Feels little confidence that their family will be protected in the event of an unexpected medical event or accident.

Stress is of great concern for Bare Coverage consumers. They are not alone. Many Americans have been affected by the current economic landscape combined with personal or health-related issues, which often lead to fiscal and mental distress. It is vital these consumers seek out support or resources to help manage their stress and anxiety. Individuals with stress often report incidences of ulcers and digestive problems, migraine and other headaches, depression and even heart attacks at rates higher than average. Seek out help from employer-sponsored programs such as, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or other community-sponsored support programs.



“More than one third (36%) of workers said they typically feel tense or stressed out during their workday and almost half (49%) said low salary is significantly impacting their stress level at work, according to a 2011 American Psychological Association survey.” 5


Additionally, Bare Coverage consumers should explore other options for building a health insurance foundation in addition to major medical insurance. This can include private or state-funded health insurance plans and voluntary insurance plans if offered by the organization. Voluntary benefit solutions can provide insurance coverage for major events such as chronic illnesses or hospital visits by giving policyholders cash to help cover these expenses.

A clear indicator

Although the exercise may seem daunting, there has never been a better or more important time to assess your families’ stability and potential gaps when it comes to insurance and financial health.

To conduct your “check up,” visit www.aflac.com/insights to access Aflac’s Wellbeing Assessment Tool. For more information on the Aflac Workforce Report, groundbreaking research about benefits and how to use them as a strategic advantage, conducted by Research Now on behalf of Aflac, visit www.aflac.com/insights.

1 The term consumers in this document is used to reference respondents of the Aflac WorkForces Study, all of whom were employed full-time.
2 Simplee, “2012 First Quarter Health Care in America Out of Pocket Spending Statistics,” http://finance.yahoo.com/news/simplee-q1-2012-medical-spending-120600917.html, accessed on April 10, 2012
3 Aflac, “2012 Aflac WorkForces Report,” conducted by Research Now, January 2012
4 Mercer, “Annual Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans,” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/04/out-of-network-care-adds-to-health-expenses.html, accessed on April 16, 2012
5 American Psychological Association, “Stress in the Workplace,” conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive between January 31 – February 8, 2011.