By Deb Dominianni
MAR 12, 2015 – Commentary: When it comes to grappling with complex health care benefit challenges, human resource and benefits personnel have a tough job actively engaging employees. Many workers simply feel that they don’t have the time or knowledge to effectively manage complex health issues. Often, when facing financial or health care decisions, employees prefer that someone else make these decisions for them.
The reality is that most employees now are covering a greater percentage of their health care costs, leaving many feeling ill-prepared to make complex decisions when unexpectedly confronted with a serious illness. For companies transitioning to a consumer-directed health plan, the most important point to keep in mind is that the health plan a business adopts may not be as critical as how the business handles the transition to the plan.
Helping employees learn how to effectively manage their health care choices presents an opportunity for employers to demonstrate that they care about their employees, and to curb potential absenteeism, low morale and lost productivity. Workers may well be the ones responsible for their health care decisions, but the wrong choices can greatly affect their performance, as well as the culture and profitability of the workplace. Therefore, employers may need to go beyond shifting of responsibility into the hands of its workers to also prepare them to better manage the transition with benefits that extend additional resources and decision support.
Several key tactics can help improve the effectiveness of this shift toward a CDHC model while ensuring employees remain adequately engaged in, and protected by, their health insurance benefits. Consider these approaches for effectively transitioning to a new plan:
Given that most employees haven’t been informed or encouraged to understand the complexities of today’s health care system, the sudden shifting of costs and responsibility can have negative consequences for both the employee and their employer. For example, employees may feel overwhelmed with information and unable to process detailed or conflicting health care information. Employee engagement and productivity can suffer as health care concerns mount.
CDHC models that integrate benefit services to guide employees through complex health care decisions can help speed the transition to CDHPs and facilitate greater compromise between healthcare cost reduction and employee engagement initiatives.
Provide expert resources
Employees have become accustomed to instant access to information, but frequently complex or major health care decisions can catch workers by surprise. Benefit offerings that include health advisory services allow organizations to better equip employees with one point of contact for access to expert medical resources, second opinions and diagnostic competency. By encouraging better and more informed decisions associated with high-cost medical claims, employers are in a better position to manage these costs and absenteeism in the workplace, while driving improved employee engagement and productivity.
Providing employees with realistic scenarios based on relevant experiences can help crystallize just how much out-of-pocket expenses they may be responsible for. It can also help set expectations and provide a much needed sense of support and control.
Employees, and their family members, with critical illnesses are often faced with fewer dollars to spend, less time to commit to researching health care decisions, and limited health literacy. The combined effect of diagnostic complexity, new medical technologies, expanded treatment options and a shrinking supply of physicians can intimidate, demoralize and overwhelm even the most educated employee.
Health advisory services can fulfill the need for an objective, unbiased resource to help guide employees and their families through a logical, thorough and informed decision-making process in all matters related to their health care. Companies adopting these benefit plans provide their employees with a health advisory team to coordinate access to appropriate health experts, medical specialists, and evidence-based treatment options, often within the employee’s insurance network – wherever and whenever they are needed. This takes a tremendous burden off the employees and accelerates the acceptance of a CDHP.
Offer personalized support
When benefit managers consider adopting new health benefit options, they should consider how powerful health advisory services can be to their employees, and to the company transitioning to a CDHP. Health care that is tailored to individual preferences, vetting of appropriate treatments, second opinions and scheduled appointments with top specialists are all significant benefits that make it easier for employees to embrace and engage CDHPs. Employers adopting health advisory services often see their employees become more deeply engaged in health care decisions with an improved perception of the employer’s commitment to their well-being. Improving the quality of work-life balance, and the perception of the employer relationship with the employee, is a big part of recruiting and retaining quality staff.
Promote engagement with CDHPs
As companies have streamlined staff, the HR department did not emerge unscathed. Most HR departments are overworked and are being asked to do more with less. The idea of taking on more initiatives or administration of additional benefits can appear overwhelming. Yet, this is a critical time for employers and employees who are relying on their HR team. Delivering on the promise of CDHC will ultimately require better engagement from employees. Businesses today have an array of health insurance benefit delivery models to choose from. Most insurance plans are placing more financial responsibility and health care decision-making in the hands of employees.
The degree to which organizations support their employees in the transitioning to CDHPs may ultimately have the biggest impact on outcomes. Will companies offer a road map to employees to guide them in the right direction, or will they hand over the keys to someone who’s never learned to drive a car?
Deb Dominianni is vice president, strategy, with PinnacleCare, a provider of health advisory services.