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Color of Money: Don't get paralyzed by open enrollment -- just do it

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- I hate open enrollment season.

I know I'm not supposed to say this, but it's true. The long list of benefit options can be flat-out overwhelming. Which health care choice is right? Do I just go with the cheapest option? What's the right amount of life insurance? Make a wrong move and you're stuck with your decision for a year, unless you have a life-changing event like the birth of a child.

Not surprisingly, many workers find open enrollment frustrating, according to a survey by Namely, an HR software company.

So what bothers people the most?

They don't like the constant changes in plans from year to year, the overly complicated material they're given to make their choices and the limited time they have to make their decisions. Half of employees said they would like at least a month to make selections.

People also don't feel their company's human resources department can help navigate the process. So they turn to co-workers or family members for advice.

 

To be fair, many companies do make a concerted effort to reduce confusion. Last year, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans looked at how companies communicate about open enrollment. Many firms said they beefed up their budgets to educate employees about their benefits. They mail material, send emails or create dedicated websites.

Despite these efforts, 80 percent of organizations said that most employees don't even read the information they send.

A report by Aflac found that 83 percent of workers spend less than an hour researching their workplace benefits. People hate the process so much that they said they would rather file their taxes or hold a screaming baby.

The overwhelming majority of plan participants just stick with what they had in previous years.

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