Maximizing Your Medical Plan Spend: The Art of Employee Communication
By Chris Helin, Vice President Lovitt & Touché
When was the last time you evaluated your Employee Communications Strategy as it relates to your medical plan? If you don’t have a strategic, thought out plan, you could be costing your company money.
Healthcare has changed, and costs are still increasing – but the variables have shifted.If you don’t include a communication strategy among your tactics to control costs, you are shooting with buckshot at best, and not saving as much money as you could. Plus, you are missing out on an opportunity to increase employee engagement.
Why You Need a Communication Strategy
A Towers Watson study notes that there is a link between workforce engagement and corporate performance. Other studies suggest solid communication with employees about how to use their benefits increases employee engagement, with more evidence growing every day that shows employee engagement increases profit.
Most of you are probably thinking, “I tell my employees about their new health insurance options every year at the Open Enrollment meeting!” A recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans study found that only 50 percent of employees understand the communications about their medical benefits. If you obtain utilization data from your insurance carrier, you will probably see this gap in understanding reflected in the utilization report, because employees are not using the plan correctly.
Simply hoping that employees fully comprehend what you are communicating, or giving them a one-time crash course in everything you want them to consider when they access healthcare, isn’t effective education, nor is it enough to increase engagement. Think about this concept carefully. Do you learn best with either of these approaches? Neither do your employees.
As an Employee Benefits Consultant with more than 25 years of experience, I have seen the impact when employers take the time to communicate effectively about their medical plans. Your communication is a “strategy” when it happens throughout the year as well as during Open Enrollment.
It can be stressful and costly for employees and/or their families to select a medical plan without fully understanding their options. When you take time to strategically walk your employees through their options and teach them how to obtain medical care in the most efficient and cost-conscious way, you set them up for success. When they see you taking time to help them understand something that is not easily understood, and which impacts their lives and their budgets,they feel better about you as an employer. When they feel better about you as an employer, they are more engaged in their jobs.
Creating a Communication Strategy
So, what’s involvedin creating a strategy to communicate with employees in a way they canunderstand and absorb? It is actually quite simple. Make it relevant. Look atyour medical plan from your employees’ perspective. Employees need and want tosave money on their healthcare costs. Focus your communication strategy on whatemployees need and how they can use the medical plan in a cost-conscious way.
The following are basic elements of an effective communication strategy:
1) Communicate Regularly – Communicate early and often with an on-point message. Comprehension will happen when the information is heard or seen more than once from several angles and from several sources. Build a strategy that focuses on putting information in front of employees every month, not just every year.
Cater your communication to your employee population. If they usually delete emails about Open Enrollment or from Human Resources, don’t use email as your main delivery method. If they like games and competing, teach them insurance-related terms and topics by building a contest into your newsletter and your staff meetings. Consider taking a foundational idea and building on it each month.
2) Make it Relevant& Break it Down – Give employees several examples of different medical situations and tell them how their medical plan responds. Choose an example for each access point (hospital, emergency room, urgent care, physician, pharmacy).Talk to them about premiums vs. plan deductibles and maximum costs. Most employees are over insured because they are afraid they won’t have enough in their budget to cover the cost of an unexpected medical situation. However,investing what they would have paid in premiums for a richer plan into an HSA, might end up being less expensive. Talk through all options available to help employees choose the right plan.
3) Differentiate Healthcare & Insurance - Healthcare and insurance are different terms that have been mashed together in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.Healthcare is what you access, and insurance is how you pay for it. An effective communications plan focuses on how your insurance plan is best used to pay for healthcare.
4) Keep it Simple– Avoid information overload by giving employees time to digest each topic. Don’t rush through Open Enrollment presentations and be sure to address all employee questions or concerns before moving on to the next topic. Additionally, use technology to communicate and present opportunities to save money when using the plans. Does your carrier have an app? Let employees know. There are often tips built into each carrier’s app.
5) Provide Resources – Consider keeping an FAQ on your intranet site that employees can reference when they need assistance. Host “lunch and learns” to teach different concepts, such as:
· How to find low-cost services with an HSA
· Differences between HSAs and PPOs
· What are specialty drugs and why are they so expensive?
Throughout the communication process, don’t forget to remind employees that you are doing this because you want them to get the best care, from the best providers, for the best price. By implementing an effective communications strategy, you may gain more than cost reductions in your medical plan spend. It may also show up in your dental and vision plans, and in your engagement scores. And if it shows up in those engagement scores,it shows up on the bottom line!