Given the current economic climate, employees are approaching this year™s Open Enrollment period “ often the one time of year to make changes to workplace benefits selections “ with legitimate concerns about cost of living increases and benefits affordability. According to MetLife™s 2008 Open Enrollment survey, with nearly one in three employees paying at least half the cost of their benefits, they are anticipating paying more out-of-pocket, but also are seeking more resources from employers to help them make the right decisions during the process. Increasingly, employees are indicating that they would like greater access to benefits information, guidance and personalized support, which could allow them to conduct thorough research as they do before they purchase other products and services.

To help address this growing demand and to make the enrollment decision process even easier, MetLife today announces the launch of the Employee Benefits Simplifier, a free online tool for consumers available at www.metlife.com/benefits. The tool helps workers identify which benefits are right for people like them, and offers suggested actionable life-stage recommendations “ particularly when it comes to coverage levels and benefits selection.

A Need Met

The Employee Benefits Simplifier directly addresses several key findings from the 2008 Open Enrollment survey regarding employees™ behavior and feelings towards Open Enrollment, including:

  • Workers want personalized guidance from their employers, and welcome more interactive sources of information. According to the study, when asked what their HR department could have done to make the benefits selection process easier, roughly one-quarter of employees said either Provide more information about benefits (23%), Present benefits information in an easier to understand format (25%) or Offer guidelines or instructions for ˜people like me™ (24%).
  • Treating employees more like benefits consumers is well-worth the effort for employers. Employers that are able to effectively communicate benefits offerings and guide employees to the best decisions for their family are likely to improve their workers™ satisfaction with the Open Enrollment process. Among those workers that report having access to resources to help them make informed decisions, 82% were satisfied with their benefits offerings “ compared to half (51%) of employees who stated that they didn™t get the resources they needed.
  • Giving employees more consumer-friendly benefits information also changes their benefits behavior. Three-quarters of employees made no changes to their 2008 employee benefits selection during their most recent enrollment period “ a surprising statistic given that nearly half (44%) experienced a major life event, such as having a baby, buying a home, getting married or getting divorced. Of those employees who did make changes, new benefits offerings and better educational material accounted for roughly one-third of all changes that were made. In fact, new offerings was the most frequently cited reason for making adjustments to employee benefits “ more important than changes in family composition or changes in personal/family health. Therefore, giving employees ‘more consumer-friendly benefits information’ should increase employees understanding and their likelihood of taking advantage of the benefits offered to them.

The marketplace is moving away from a ˜one size fits most™ approach to benefits and, increasingly, there is a need for easy-to-understand, targeted benefits education and guidance. To date, there has not been a tool in the marketplace that addresses all of these needs, and the Employee Benefits Simplifier was designed to fill that void, said Bill Mullaney, president, MetLife Institutional Business. Furthermore, since a majority of working Americans spend only 30 minutes or less making their benefits choices during open enrollment, we wanted to create a tool that empowers consumers and makes it easy for them to make more informed decisions for them and their families. We™re excited about the feedback we™ve heard thus far and are pleased to do our part to help employees and employers optimize their benefits programs.

The Employee Benefits Simplifier should be a welcome addition to employees, as 79% of employees who receive interactive calculators and decision support tools say that they are extremely or very helpful “ the mostly highly valued tools among employees. The vast majority (92%) of employees that received these tools were confident with their benefits decisions, almost 10% more than employees overall (83%). And 83% of employees that used these tools were satisfied with their benefits choices, an increase from 71% of employees overall. However, interactive calculators and decision support tools are hard to come by “ only 10% of employees report having access to these tools. But, employees who have enough resources to make an informed decision are almost three times as likely to feel confident in their benefits selections (72% vs. 25%).

Benefits for People Like Me

Taking into account the answer to basic questions about life stage and preferences, the Employee Benefits Simplifier creates a holistic set of guidelines and product information based on the employees™ profile. The output delivers a simple way for employees to view benefits choices to consider, broken out by product categories: medical, dental, long-term disability, life insurance, retirement and employee-paid or voluntary benefits. Each category suggests options that might be appropriate for the employees™ profile, and makes recommendations for other, less traditional protection options “ i.e., long-term care insurance, critical illness insurance, legal services plans and pet insurance.

Finally, the different choices are presented, offering the pros and cons for various solutions, with explanations of how aspects of the plan may work for the employee. For example, the output could explain how with a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) you can get comprehensive coverage at the lowest out-of-pocket price, but that may come along with some inconveniences since your choice of doctors may be restricted, or the output may explain how critical illness insurance may work with existing medical insurance. The employee can view people like me profiles that demonstrate how others in their lifestage handle their benefits enrollment. Also available are profiles of people in other lifestages that can be helpful as one thinks ahead, e.g., singles contemplating marriage.

The Employee Benefits Simplifier is the next iteration of our employee benefits ˜rules of thumb™ based on general truths that we know about employee behaviors and needs, adds Mullaney. For example, a couple with young children who need regular check-ups might find that paying a little more upfront for a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) saves their family more, once they factor in out-of-pocket costs. They may also see the benefit of helping to protect their income with disability insurance in the event that they become ill or injured and are unable to work.

Survey Methodology

The MetLife 2008 Open Enrollment Survey was conducted online February 25 “ March 4, 2008 and was fielded by GfK NOP. This survey polled 1,204 full-time employees, age 21 and older, who are working full-time for a company offering benefits and have at least some say in the benefits decision-making for their household.

To learn more about how employees think and behave during their company™s Open Enrollment period, you can download a copy of MetLife™s new white paper entitled Open Enrollment at a Crossroad: New Employee Expectations, New Employer Opportunities at www.whymetlife.com/enrollment2.

Celebrating 140 years, MetLife is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), a leading provider of insurance and financial services with operations throughout the United States and the Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific regions. Through its domestic and international subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife, Inc. reaches more than 70 million customers around the world and MetLife is the largest life insurer in the United States (based on life insurance in-force). The MetLife companies offer life insurance, annuities, auto and home insurance, retail banking and other financial services to individuals, as well as group insurance, reinsurance and retirement & savings products and services to corporations and other institutions. For more information, please visit www.metlife.com.

MetLife
Toni L. Griffin, 727-862-7006
tgriffin2@metlife.com
or
Joseph Madden, 212-578-3021
jmadden@metlife.com

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