The events of 2020 disrupted our lives, routines and environments. However, these experiences have also presented employers with an opportunity to better support their employees’ total wellbeing and help ensure that they’re getting the most value out of their benefit plans. Employees will remember how their employer responded during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Many might ask why should employers focus on turning employees into smart, resilient health care consumers? The simple answer is that in order to successfully bring people-centered benefit strategies to life in the future, we must create a strong partnership now with employees. And not only is it our duty, it’s the right thing to do! Any efforts to increase health literacy and foster engagement with decision-support tools will contribute to mitigating rising health care costs without forcing employers to implement disruptive tactics like narrow networks and strict drug formularies. With continued economic uncertainty from the pandemic and the ambiguity of health care reform under the Biden Administration, employers can still step up in 2021 by re-evaluating their communication strategies and taking advantage of a blueprint for successful year-round benefits engagement that will help prepare employees for the unexpected.
Health Care Consumerism: Why now?
con•sum•er•ism / kən-ˈsü-mə-ˌri-zəm / noun: the promotion of the consumer’s interests
HR & benefits professionals not only have the responsibility of managing the health of their employees and organizational budgets, they also face the challenge of improving it. Another significant outcome emerging from the trials of 2020 is that consumers are starting to take ownership of their wellbeing and ask questions. Historically, employees have had a very transactional relationship with their employer-sponsored health plans. The ripple effects of the pandemic now have people learning more about their health risks, exploring options that protect their financial wellbeing from another potential crisis and gaining confidence in navigating the virtual health care tools, such as telemedicine. As employees shift to play a more active role in their health, employers can no longer ignore their expectations to have benefits enrollment and utilization mirror their favorite consumer experiences like online shopping and mobile access.
Let’s reframe the question posed at the near the beginning of this piece – why is it the employer’s responsibility to build better health care consumers? According to the 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey, employer-sponsored insurance covers approximately 157 million people, presenting employers with the capacity and influence to drive meaningful change in the health care consumerism movement. However, we all play a part in improving health care consumerism – employers, health care providers, brokers, technology platforms, employees, and everyone else in the benefits ecosystem.
So, What Does it Mean to be a Smart Health Care Consumer?
Getting employees to a state of being “smart” health care consumers means they’re leveraging decision-support tools like health cost estimators, “shopping” around for services, asking for second opinions, take advantage of their plan’s perks and staying on track with preventive care recommendations. Benefit professionals can take it a step further by identifying opportunities for employees to discover tools like drug savings programs, helping health plan members avoid unnecessary procedures, and promoting early detection of chronic and serious health conditions. When employees become smart health care consumers, they can have a positive impact on the success of their employer’s benefits strategies.
Smart Health Care Consumers + Creative Year-Round Employee Engagement = A Stronger & More Resilient Organizational Wellbeing
2021 is a pivotal year for employers to better understand their employees’ myriad of needs and expectations in our new post-pandemic world. Now is the time to re-evaluate benefit plan designs and engagement strategies to help ensure that employees’ total wellbeing is not just about surviving in this new world, but also creating the opportunities for employees to flourish and thrive. And it’s critical for employers not to compromise the fundamental objective to improve the lives of employees and their families in the process of mitigating health care costs.
During this time of great uncertainty for employees and employers alike, having access to the right data and insights can help create a multifaceted approach to not just managing health care expenses, but to improving health care consumerism through innovative strategies. Just shifting the cost burden to employees and/or eliminating parts of your benefits package can lead to a loss of talent within your organization and result in higher cost claims due to care avoidance or non-compliance with chronic conditions. Employers must focus their efforts to enhance employee health and wellbeing through comprehensive benefits offerings that serve the whole person and creative communications that encourage benefits engagement throughout the entire year. We cannot control the future of health care or the COVID-19 public health crisis, but employers can make sure that their employees and organizations are prepared to respond to any changes and challenges in order to thrive and prosper.
Download the guide, A Blueprint for Building Resilient Health Care Consumers, for more insight into creating a successful, year-round communication strategy.