Benefits professionals annually shake their heads in frustration as they spend countless hours preparing open enrollment materials and conducting benefits meetings, only to see employees spend just minutes considering and making their benefits choices. As this year’s enrollment season approaches, new survey results from Aflac give pros hard proof to show employees that not selecting carefully carries meaningful financial consequences.

According to Aflac’s Workforces Report, three-quarters of workers who make benefits coverage decisions during open enrollment later regret their decision. In addition, 42% of workers say they have wasted money each year because of mistakes they made with their insurance benefits and more than four-in-five of them say they are at least somewhat concerned about the possibility of an unexpected medical expense, considering their current financial situation.

Conducted last month, the survey of 980 (out of 2,200 people, some unemployed) employees responsible for insurance decisions uncovers the primary ways Americans make costly mistakes in benefits decisions and reveals the impact Americans' concerns about unanticipated out-of-pocket expenses are having on their lifestyles.

"Far too many American workers are making avoidable mistakes in benefits coverage decisions — from not meeting deductible amounts to contributing too little to flexible spending accounts — and, as a result of their lack of understanding or confusion, they often pay a price in multiple ways," says Audrey Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac.

For example, in terms of cost-bearing mistakes and their consequences, the most common include not electing available benefit coverage such as vision, dental or voluntary, choosing the wrong level of coverage and putting too little in a FSA. As a result of paying unexpected out-of-pocket medical costs, 65% of workers have had to make sacrifices, including cutting back on social activities (40%), luxury items (34%), purchasing gifts (29%) and taking a vacation (28%). Twenty-one percent of workers admitted to working more hours, creating a strict household budget (21%) and increasing use of credit cards or line of credit (19%).

Seventy-four percent of workers say that when thinking about their choices for major medical insurance coverage, they only sometimes or rarely or never understand everything that is covered by their policy — while slightly more than half (59%) of workers who choose the same benefits year after year say they only sometimes or rarely or never have a full understanding of the changes in the policies each year. Although most do not fully understand their health care insurance policies, workers are worried about unexpected medical expenses. In fact, 83% of workers say they are at least somewhat concerned about the possibility of an unexpected medical expense, considering their current financial situation.

"While workers certainly need to invest more time in making better educated decisions, employers can help by understanding workers' most common mistakes, explaining their impact, and offering best-practice solutions," says Tillman.

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