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What to Ask Your HR Department About Life, Health, and Disability Insurance

by Emily Guy Birken

With all of the paperwork you end up filling out on your first day on the job, finding out the exact details of your insurance benefits can slip your mind. However, it is important that you know exactly what coverage your employer is offering so you can know if there are any gaps. Here are some important questions to ask your Human Resources Department about your benefits, whether you’re just starting your job or several years into your career there:

Life Insurance

employer sponsored insurance

Get the details when you start your job

1. What is the maximum coverage? In many cases, you can be enrolled in your employer’s group life insurance for a specified amount for “free”—that is at no out-of-pocket cost to you. For many young unmarried employees, that specified amount (which can either be a dollar amount or a multiple of income, such as two times your yearly salary) can be more than enough coverage.

After major life events like marriage and children, you may want to add to that “free” coverage to make certain that your family is taken care of should something happen to you. You can pay for your life insurance policy with pre-tax dollars as long as the payout is $50,000 or less. After that point, you will be paying for your premiums after tax.

Depending on the maximum coverage available through your employer, you may want to supplement your life insurance with an individual policy.

2. Is my life insurance portable? This question might be a little awkward to ask, as you’ll be finding out if you can transfer your group life insurance policy to an individual policy should you ever leave your employer. You need to know the answer even if you have no current plans to leave your job, however, because it can help you determine whether you might need an additional individual policy if your life changes. In addition, you will want to know if the portability rules are prohibitively expensive, it which case it might make sense to cover yourself with a small individual policy that can follow you throughout your career.

Health Insurance

1. Who is covered and for how long? When my husband and I moved to Lafayette, Indiana so he could start a new job, I was still covered by my insurance through the school system where I taught in Ohio. This was pretty complicated, because I was seven months pregnant and my coverage (that would lapse at right around my due date) meant that my husband and I had to pay extra to put me on his policy while I was covered elsewhere.

Not all coverage issues are nearly as complicated, but it does pay to find out the specifics of who you can bring onto your health insurance before you need it. In our case, I needed to find a doctor who took both my lapsing insurance and my husband’s insurance—because of course they weren’t both from the same company.

This is also a question you need to ask if you have kids going to college, because deciding whether to keep them on your insurance or enroll them in a policy through their school could potentially save or cost you a lot.

2. How can I lower my premiums? Your HR Department is a great place to ask this question, as it can offer you all of the information on deductible and benefit options. From there, you can determine what level of coverage you need. If you can raise your deductible or possibly eliminate some benefits, you can potentially lower your premiums to a more manageable amount.

3. Is my health insurance portable? Similar to your life insurance, you need to know if your health insurance can be taken with you if/when you leave. It is good to know if you can transfer your group health care plan to an individual policy should you ever leave your employer. This is also a good time to ask about the benefits covered under COBRA health coverage.

Disability Insurance

1. How long after a disability do I have to wait before I can collect on a claim? Disability insurance generally has a waiting period which you must meet before you can start collecting benefits. The longer the waiting period before benefits kick in, the lower the premiums. So find out whether you might be cooling your heels for 30 days or six months—or longer—before you can collect on a disability claim.

2. Is this an any occupation or own occupation policy? An any occupation policy will only pay out benefits if you are disabled to the point that you cannot perform any job—including burger flipper, cashier, and other unskilled employment. Having an any occupation policy means that you are much less likely to see your benefits, since only truly devastating disabilities make it impossible to do any job.

An own occupation policy, on the other hand, pays benefits if you are disabled and therefore unable to work the job you have trained for.

Photo credit: Victor1558


Published or updated May 9, 2012.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathryn C

fantastic article. We just had an internal call on health insurance at my company. Premiums up and benefits down, sweet.
But now they give us a stipend for the gym, which is good. Living in LA it basically covers the gas to get to the gym. HA
Kathryn

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2 Terry Pratt

My HR Department would be stunned, and when they recover they would probably ROFL and say Fuhgeddaboutit.

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3 Ryan Guina

Benefits are a huge part of many compensation packages, and it’s always good to now which benefits you are eligible for and the details regarding how to receive the benefits or whether or not they are portable. Even if your company may not be receptive to these types of benefits or questions, many companies are.

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4 Dan S

Good point about the ‘any occupation’ versus ‘own occupation’ for disability. It’s very important to know what is covered and make sure coverage is adequate. If not, supplemental insurance is a popular way to ensure you and your family are totally taken care of.

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