UPDATED: Nov 30, 2018
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While being catapulted into the ranks of the most recognized brands in the country, Aflac also expanded into Japan and took the duck along for the ride, making them an international success story.
Of course, behind the mascot every insurance company has to live up the promises made in advertising campaigns, and Aflac is no different. They promise fast, fair claims service and products that will help keep you afloat financially when an illness or injury means you can’t work.
Aflac’s supplemental products cover the costs your major medical plan does not. They are sold individually as well as through employers as voluntary benefits. Being well known doesn’t necessarily equate to being a great insurance company, so we’ll take a look behind the duck to see if Aflac is living up to what it promises.
Aflac, which stands for American Family Life Assurance Company, was founded in 1955 in Columbus, Georgia. The company quickly moved away from basic life insurance, introducing the first cancer policies in 1958.
In 1964, Aflac narrowed its focus in on workplace policies paid through payroll deductions. By the early 2000s, the vast majority of the company’s policies in force were purchased this way, making them a major player in the voluntary benefits market.
Aflac entered the Japanese market in 1974, and has been highly successful there, becoming one of the top insurance companies in Japan – number one when rated by policies in force. In the 1980s the company began using the now-famous acronym, and today few people even know what Aflac stands for.
The Aflac duck was introduced in 2000, and was originally voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, who was replaced in 2011. The duck quickly became one of the most recognized company mascots in America as well as in Japan, where he made his debut in 2003. By 2014, Aflac’s brand recognition had jumped from 11% to 94%, a huge increase attributed mainly to the ubiquitous duck.
In 2009, Aflac acquired Continental American Insurance Company, renaming it Aflac Group Insurance. This opened the company up to a wider market including individual and group policies.
The company is highly involved in charities and sponsorships. Some of their better-known contributions include the annual sale of the Holiday Duck, which sees all proceeds go to children’s cancer research, and their sponsorship of the Jackie Robinson Award to high school baseball players. The baseball award is presented at a charity event, with proceeds going to a children’s hospital.
Aflac today writes a range of supplemental health insurance and life insurance policies, and still does the vast majority of their business through payroll deduction policies. Products are offered through employers as group plans as well as individually.
In 2017, Aflac ranked number 126 on the Fortune 500. The also ranked number 91 on the Fortune list of Best Companies, and made the list of the world’s most admired companies.
The company’s global headquarters remains in Columbus, Georgia. Policies are sold through agents, and quotes can be obtained by phone or via a quote request form on the company website.
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Aflac writes supplemental insurance policies, which means they are designed to provide financial support for those medical needs not covered by your main health insurance plan. These products include accident insurance, short-term disability insurance, cancer insurance – which Aflac pioneered – and several other similar products.
Aflac’s big question to consumers is “What if you’re hurt and can’t work?” and they try to answer that question with their range of insurance products.
Aflac’s Accident Insurance is designed to pay for the expenses that are not covered under a major medical plan in the event of an accident.
This plan also offers wellness benefits, which will help to pay for routine preventative care that is not otherwise covered.
Aflac’s Accident policies include their One Day Pay plan, in which payments on covered claims can be paid out within one day in certain situations, if the claim is submitted within the appropriate deadline.
Aflac offers basic whole and term life insurance policies that are designed to provide for final expenses as well as to provide some income for loves ones left behind.
The website doesn’t offer much detail on these policies in terms of coverage amounts or options, but does state that there are simple issue products available that can be obtained without a medical exam or health questions. These policies are only available as workplace payroll deduction benefits.
Aflac does offer an Accidental Death Benefit Rider that increases the payout to the beneficiary in the event of a qualifying accidental death.
There is also a juvenile life insurance policy available, however details can only be obtained by contacting an Aflac agent.
This policy provides a range of cancer care coverage to assist with the high cost of treatments. Aflac offers options for lump-sum payments or for policies that pay out based on the required treatment.
This policy also includes the One Day Pay option, although it may not always apply, depending on the situation. This coverage is also portable, which means it can be taken with you even if you change jobs.
Critical Illness Insurance
Aflac offers a range of Critical Illness insurance, including options that can be issued with no medical exam or health questions.
This policy offers coverage for medical expenses related to critical illnesses that require costly hospital stays and other care, and helps to cover the expenses that are not paid by the policyholder’s main medical insurance policy.
Aflac’s coverage options, like the cancer care policy, offer the choice of a lump sum payment that is paid out immediately upon diagnosis, or treatment-based payments. This second option will pay out as needed based on treatment required as it is received throughout the illness.
Like the other policies, Aflac offers the One Day Pay option with this type of coverage as well, which would allow a policyholder to receive a payment within a day of diagnosis.
Aflac offers hospital coverage that covers the various costs associated with a hospital stay that are often not included in standard health insurance coverage. Aflac offers a range of different coverage levels, but doesn’t outline them on the website.
This type of coverage is also available with a no medical exam option that can be issued regardless of health status. Again, Aflac offers the One Day Pay option on hospital plans.
Aflac’s short-term disability plans replace a percentage of the policyholder’s income when they are unable to work for a period of time. This type of coverage is only available through workplace payroll deduction.
There are some guaranteed-issue options for short-term disability products, and they are renewable up to age 75. Although there is no One Day Pay for this type of policy, Aflac does promise an average of 4 days to pay out claims.
Few medical plans include any sort of dental insurance. Aflac offers policies that cover both routine dental care as well as treatments such as fillings, crowns, and root canals. There are also policy options that cover cosmetic dentistry and orthodontia.
Aflac’s dental insurance plans are available in several levels of coverage. There are guaranteed issue policies available that can be obtained with no medical questions.
These plans can be used at any dentist, as the plan pays the policyholder directly. That means there are no networks and coverage doesn’t depend on which dentist you choose, unlike with HMO or PPO plans.
Aflac’s vision coverage plans include a yearly eye exam and coverage for lenses, frames, contacts, and more.
Like the dental plan, there is no network. This means policyholders can choose the doctor they prefer to see. Again, benefits are paid directly to the insured.
There are a variety of plan levels available to choose from, allowing customer to select the plan that works best for their budget and needs.
Aflac’s website does not provide a whole lot of detail regarding their products, just a brief overview of each. Visitors to the site are directed to call Aflac or be put in touch with an agent to get more details. Although this isn’t entirely uncommon for a company that sells the majority of their products through workplace payroll deductions, it would be nice to see a little more information regarding their products.
Today’s insurance customer expects to be able to research the products they’re considering online, and Aflac’s website doesn’t provide enough information to allow careful comparison to the products available from other companies.
In general, there is some question regarding the usefulness of policies like cancer and critical illness insurance; most such policies offer a modest payout in return for premiums that can add up quite a bit over time, even though they are small amounts on a monthly basis. Many experts recommend looking at other ways of saving money for unexpected medical expenses – investments that can provide growth while also ensuring a financial fallback in case of a serious diagnosis. Adding riders to a life insurance policy is another option to consider that can be less costly than a separate policy.
It’s important to take the time to weigh how much you will pay into a policy versus how much you stand to gain in benefits if the day comes that you really need it, while also considering other options that could serve the same purpose.
Prices and Premiums
Aflac does not offer quotes online, and many of their policies are only available as workplace deductions. This makes it difficult to get an idea of what their premiums are like.
The website does use a gimmicky method of giving visitors to the site an idea of what they can expect to pay – at the bottom of each page you’ll find the Aflac duck letting you know that you can get life insurance for about the cost of a gallon of gas per week, accident coverage for about the cost of a box of bandages, and short-term disability for the weekly cost of a movie ticket.
While this gimmick does help customers get an idea of how the money spent on insurance can be compare to commonly purchased items, it’s not really a reliable method of comparing rates. Particularly with life insurance and other medical insurance, the cost can vary greatly. Age, lifestyle, health status, and other factors all have a big impact on rates.
As a company that offers workplace deductions coverage, odds are good that Aflac does offer relatively affordable coverage. How they would compare to other companies is difficult to say without more information about the products; it seems unlikely that Aflac writes the type of term life policy that we usually use for our rate comparisons. The site seems to indicate that they write policies with relatively low death benefit amounts.
Aflac offers three methods of filing a claim. Claims forms can be downloaded from the website and then either faxed or mailed to the company. Faxes can be sent to 1-877-442-3522.
The third method is to file online via the Aflac SmartClaim system. To access this system the policyholder must log into a customer account and access the claims system from there.
One Day Pay
Aflac’s One Day Pay is an option for filing claims and receiving a benefits payment as quickly as possible. Using the SmartClaim system, claims that are filed before 3 p.m E.T., Monday-Friday, will be paid as soon as the next day. Through this system policyholders can fill out the claims forms, upload any supporting documents that are required, and get the claim submitted for a fast response.
One Day Pay is not available for any claims submitted by fax or mail. All documents have to be sent to Aflac electronically to qualify.
One Day Pay offers two choices for receiving a benefits check. Customers who have signed up for direct deposit can have the funds added directly to a bank account – which makes it a true one-day system and allows the fastest access to benefits. You’ll need to sign up for direct deposit ahead of time to ensure that funds can be deposited without delays.
There is also the option to receive a check in the mail, which really makes the option more than a one-day-issue, but still ensures that the check will be on its way as soon as possible.
Most of the policies available from Aflac include the One Day Pay option. It’s not offered for life insurance or for short-term disability, nor is it offered on dental and vision insurance plans.
Aflac allows one-form claims, which means that after you submit the form it will be applied to any and all policies for which there is eligible coverage.
This is a pretty impressive option, and if it works the way it should it’s among the quickest claims processing and payment that we have seen from any insurance company. Of course, there are some exceptions, but it’s not really surprising since some claims simply require a little more investigation and effort to complete. Aflac promises to aim for a four-day processing time on those claims, which is still a pretty big promise.
If in fact Aflac processes and pays as quickly as they say they do, they’re likely to have some pretty happy customers. We’ll take a look at that next.
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Consumer Feedback and Ratings
Aflac currently has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and has been accredited since 1958, not long after they opened their doors. There have been 465 claims filed against the company in the past three years, and 122 of those were closed in the past 12 months.
The BBB doesn’t consider that to be a large number considering the size of the company, but it’s still the kind of number that jumps off the page. The vast majority of the complaints were problems with products and services. These are the kind of complaint numbers we usually see with insurance companies that have a much wider variety of products, such as major personal and commercial lines insurance companies.
ConsumerAffairs.com has 442 reviews of Aflac, and 88 star ratings, the vast majority of which are one-star ratings. These complaints are mostly centered on claims problems; the repeated refrain being that Aflac drags out claims and finds loopholes to get out of paying them.
For a company that promises fast claims payments without trying to get out of paying, it’s pretty concerning to read that so many people felt that they were getting the runaround for generally straightforward claims. There are a few positive reviews of the company as well. Although usually positive reviews carry a lot of weight, the much higher number of complaints makes it hard not to be concerned.
Pissed Consumer has 162 reviews of Aflac, and gives them a two star rating overall. While there are a lot of complaints, there are also a handful of positive reviews. That’s pretty impressive considering that this isn’t a site people normally visit to write glowing reviews.
Overall, there are mixed reviews of Aflac, and enough complaints to make it clear that reading your policy terms carefully before you purchase a policy is a very good idea. A lot of the complaints seem to stem from confusion as to what was covered and how, as well as how to go about getting a claim paid. There are enough negative reviews and similar complaints to leave us feeling a bit wary about Aflac’s use of loopholes to avoid paying claims.
Aflac offers mostly supplemental health insurance policies that are purchased as payroll deduction policies – often as voluntary or group benefits. They are an enormous company, with millions of policies in force, and they have a very strong position in the market they serve. Their quick turnaround for claims payout – or at least the quick turnaround they promise – is certainly an attractive feature. We can’t find a whole lot of evidence, however, that they really live up to that promise.
If you’re offered Aflac through work, be sure to go over the policy terms carefully before purchasing a policy. These policies can be very helpful when it comes to paying unexpected medical bills, but it’s a good idea to consider other options for saving and investing that can be more financially prudent in the long run before investing in a supplemental health policy. Most people will be well served by taking the time to talk to a financial advisor before making a decision.
Aflac may be worth the purchase if it’s offered through work and the premiums are low, but without an idea of what they actually charge that’s difficult for us to judge.
Bottom line – make sure to consult an expert other than the Aflac duck before deciding the best way to save some extra money for a rainy day.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.