By Bart Yancey
As we enter the New Year, many insurance brokers have resolved to find more effective ways to boost employers' returns on their health care benefits investments. Specifically, brokers are focused on driving employee participation in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), which many believe can encourage cost-consciousness among consumers.
Migrating employees to high-deductible health plans has been more challenging than brokers and employers initially anticipated, however. With human resources and benefits resources already stretched thin, many employers implemented self-service, passive benefits enrollment models – leaving it up to the employees to research their options and make any changes. This method has largely failed to meet employers' goals because it relies on the employees to take action.
Unfortunately, as we know, benefits are complicated and confusing, and few employees are inclined to look into their health care options proactively. In fact, according to a recent study by Aflac, 38 percent of Americans would rather spend their time cleaning out their email boxes than researching their benefit options.
This “passive” approach to enrollment has caused employees to roll over their coverage from year to year without regard for changed personal circumstances or new employer offerings. As a result, employees are more likely to select plans that don’t truly meet their needs, often inadvertently increasing health care costs for themselves and their employers.
To deliver value to employers seeking to control health care costs through increased participation in HDHPs, insurance brokers must help educate their clients’ employees on what they’re buying and what they’re going to get for their money.
The best way to do this is by introducing "active" employee engagement, proactively explaining to employees which plans make the most sense for their individual circumstances. With active enrollment, employees must re-elect their benefits each year or risk defaulting to a bare bones plan – or even no coverage at all. Requiring an annual election encourages employees to review their coverages in light of their current circumstances and learn more about the options available to them.
This approach helps employees, who have the opportunity to understand how benefits work, including how much their choices will cost them out-of-pocket during the year. It also helps employers, who are better positioned to direct employees to more cost-effective plans, and to capture critical beneficiary and dependent information for audits and reporting.
To sell the active employee engagement models to employer partners, brokers should target the key decision-makers most focused on cost control and efficiencies. It’s often helpful to bring in an outside partner specializing in employee engagement solutions to communicate the value of an active approach to health care. Such specialists can ensure:
- Employees receive one-on-one enrollment support. Employees will meet with benefit educators (either in person or over the phone), who will help them navigate the enrollment process and how their benefits work.
- Benefits information reaches all interested parties, from senior executives and entry-level employees to family members, in a timely and consistent manner. This is without taking HR and benefits team members away from their other responsibilities.
- Benefits information is communicated not just during open enrollment, but throughout the year. To be successful, employees need to understand how to evaluate their health care options and then use the benefits they select. This can be achieved through customized enrollment guides, newsletters, training materials and compliance materials.
By introducing an active approach to health care benefits enrollment, brokers will deliver a more positive experience for employees, who can understand and appreciate what they are buying and how to use it. They also will deliver a more positive experience for employers, who will see increased return on their health care investments. By creating clear value for their partners, brokers will be poised for greater success in the new year.
Bart Yancey is CEO of DirectPath. Bart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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