Injured person Only 34 percent ofemployees who are actually enrolled in employer-offered benefitssay they’d rely on voluntary benefits to cover non-medical expensesdue to a serious injury or illness. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Voluntary benefits: employees may have them, but theydon’t necessarily think of using them when circumstances arise.

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A new study on voluntary benefits from Cignafinds that employees don’t necessarily understand the medical orthe non-medical cost perspective of supplemental voluntary benefits when it comesto the role they can play in the event of major illnesses orserious injuries.

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“Voluntary benefits that are designed to complement corebenefits provide additional peace of mind, plus convenience andaffordability,” says Marc Jeffreys vice president of businessoperations, Enterprise Voluntary Benefits at Cigna.

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Related: Taking “disability” out of disabilityinsurance

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Even though 81 percent of respondents recognized the financialrisk presented by the medical bills that arise from such serioushealth challenges, only 34 percent of employees who are actuallyenrolled in employer-offered benefits say they’d rely on voluntarybenefits to cover non-medical expenses due to a serious injury orillness.

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Instead, they’d be looking at raiding their savings (49percent), handing over their credit cards (32 percent) or borrowingor withdrawing retirement money from their 401(k) or IRA to handlesuch expenses (22 percent).

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The problem seems to be that while they’re at least somewhatfamiliar with such voluntary benefits as dental, group term lifeinsurance and short-term disability, they’re far less wellacquainted with other voluntary coverage that can kick in in theevent of a critical illness, hospitalization or accidentalinjury.

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But if they knew critical illness insurance would bail them outwith a lump sum for such costs as travel, room and board,transportation, child care, treatment options or out-of-pocketexpenses not covered by primary health insurance, 51 percent ofrespondents said they’d sign up for it—and 45 percent would enrollin coverage for hospital indemnity insurance, which could pay alump sum toward hospitalization for something like surgeryrequiring an overnight stay for recovery—as well as for uncoveredout-of-pocket expenses like child care or travel.

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Then there’s accidental injury insurance, which would tempt 43percent if they knew it pays out a lump sum toward costs notcovered by primary insurance, such as rehabilitation,transportation, childcare, travel or other out-of-pocketexpenses.

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As open enrollment approaches, the study results suggest itmight be wise to devote more effort to acquainting employees withthe role that such supplemental insurance coverage can play inextending their protection against the financial challenges thatcan arise out of such serious health issues, lest they beoverwhelmed and make poorly informed or hasty decisions.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.