Health Care Trends

American Workers Are Finding The Expansion Of Health Benefits Increasingly Vital

Life insurance is the top new health benefit added to health coverage plans

A new survey from Aflac finds that nearly half of American workers purchased at least one new health benefit in response to the pandemic. To learn more about the 2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, visit here.

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Oct. 18, 2021 – With open enrollment season upon us, new data shows U.S. employees now believe the expansion of health care coverage, telemedicine and supplemental insurance is more important today because of the pandemic. According to the 2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, almost half (44%) of all U.S. employees purchased at least one new health benefit in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with half of those adding life insurance. Roughly, one-third of respondents said they purchased critical illness, hospital indemnity, telehealth services or mental health resources.

Aflac, a leading provider of supplemental insurance and products in the U.S., conducted its 11th annual, national online survey of 1,200 benefits decision-makers and 2,000 employees across the U.S. The objective of the survey is to capture industry trends and the attitudes of American employers and employees regarding the state of health care benefits in America.

“Last year’s Aflac WorkForces Report showed that the pandemic was a wake-up call for workers to consider spending more time and effort in researching health care benefits during the open enrollment period. Now, we are seeing that wake-up call turned into action,” said Matthew Owenby, chief human resources officer at Aflac. “This year’s survey demonstrates the heavy impact COVID-19 has had on American consumers’ opinions and actions regarding their health insurance and financial security, which was even stronger for those who actually had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.”

Positive COVID-19 Test Strongly Influenced Benefit Decisions

The survey found that those respondents who had tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely than other respondents to purchase at least one new health benefit. Specifically:

  • 38% purchased life insurance vs. 16% without a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • 29% purchased hospital vs. 9% without a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • 26% purchased critical illness vs. 12% without a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • 24% purchased mental health services vs. 10% without a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“COVID-19 is still very top of mind for employees, and they are seeking ways to help offset the financial burdens they have either experienced or have feared over the past 17 months,” added Owenby. “Financial vulnerability will continue to be a concern during this year’s open enrollment season as rising health care expenses continue to affect Americans during these uncertain times.”

Although the pandemic presented many challenges for Americans, it also magnified the fact that illnesses can strike at any moment and affordable health care is a necessity. Nearly one-third of respondents (29%) indicated the pandemic made them more aware of the costs associated with health care – leading them to change when deciding on health care benefits.

Recognizing this need, more than half (51%) of all American workers view supplemental benefits such as critical illness insurance, which provides additional coverage to help close the gap on specified health challenges that health insurance may not cover, as a core component of a comprehensive benefits program, and an overwhelming majority (90%) believe the need for supplemental benefits is increasing.

Are Employers Missing the Mark? How Benefits Weigh on Job Satisfaction

Offering robust benefits while staying within budget continues to be benefits decision-makers’ most significant challenge. More than half (60%) of employers indicated they observed an increase in benefits costs over the past year, which caused an adverse negative impact to their operating plans, including improving the quality of their benefits programs, awarding bonuses and offering raises. However, despite these rising costs, most employers plan to maintain their existing health insurance coverage.

Financial vulnerability will continue to be a concern during this year’s open enrollment season as rising health care expenses continue to affect Americans during these uncertain times...

This strategy might not bode well for employers. When it comes to satisfaction with existing benefits packages, the survey found a glaring disconnect, as employers have an inflated sense of employee satisfaction when it comes to the benefits they offer. More than three-quarters (76%) of employers believe their employees are satisfied with their benefits package, when in reality, only 61% of employees reported satisfaction.

An overwhelming majority of employers (81%) believe their workforce is able to financially meet their health care obligations, yet almost half (46%) of employees report that they could not pay more than $1,000 for out-of-pocket medical expenses, and a similar proportion (52%) could not go for more than one month without a paycheck.

Anxiety is a COVID-19 Fact of Life

According to the survey, half of all American workers reported having high anxiety about health care costs beyond what their insurance covers, with 1 in 3 American workers stating that their personal mental health has negatively impacted their job performance over the last year. Essential workers are 1.75 times more likely than nonessential workers to say their mental health negatively affected their job performance over the last year (42% vs. 24%). Unsurprisingly, anxiety is highest among the younger generations, who have higher levels of financial fragility.

In addition, about half of all American workers are currently experiencing varying levels of burnout based on key demographic characteristics. Specifically, younger workers (Gen Z, 64%, and millennials, 60%), essential workers (58%) and those who have been personally affected by a COVID-19 diagnosis (59%) are currently more likely experiencing burnout. Women (67%) are also more likely than men (56%) to have ever experienced burnout.

“The Aflac WorkForces Report makes it clear that maintaining the status quo with employee benefit packages may not serve employers well,” said Owenby. “Paying close attention to the wellness and mental health of employees and offering them the benefits they need are as important as ever to help employees feel protected and valued, which in turn helps improve productivity, enhance engagement and reduce stress.”





About the 2021 Aflac WorkForces Report
The 2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, conducted by Kantar on behalf of Aflac, is the 11th annual study examining benefits trends and attitudes across the United States in various industries and business sizes. The employer survey took place online between June 28 and July 14, 2021, and captured responses from 1,200 employers. The employee survey captured responses from 2,000 employees between June 28 and July 16, 2021.
For complete survey methodology, please contact Darcy Brito at
About Aflac Incorporated
Aflac Incorporated (NYSE: AFL) is a Fortune 500 company helping provide protection to more than 50 million people through its subsidiaries in Japan and the U.S., where it is a leading supplemental insurer, by paying cash fast when policyholders get sick or injured. For more than six decades, insurance policies of Aflac Incorporated’s subsidiaries have given policyholders the opportunity to focus on recovery, not financial stress. Aflac Life Insurance Japan is the leading provider of medical and cancer insurance in Japan, where it insures 1 in 4 households. For 15 consecutive years, Aflac Incorporated has been recognized by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. In 2021, Fortune included Aflac Incorporated on its list of World’s Most Admired Companies for the 20th time, and Bloomberg added Aflac Incorporated to its Gender-Equality Index, which tracks the financial performance of public companies committed to supporting gender equality through policy development, representation and transparency, for the second consecutive year. To find out how to get help with expenses health insurance doesn’t cover, get to know us at or