By Businessolver President & CEO Jon Shanahan
When it comes to health insurance and employee engagement, here’s the good news: According to a 2011 study by Maddock Douglas, 84% of consumers think health insurance is extremely important. Now for the sobering news: An analysis of enrollments on Businessolver benefits administration technology over the past two years shows employees are only spending approximately 19 minutes making their elections. That study exposes how employees really feel about benefits – they don’t want to “shop” for them in the traditional sense.
Should that come as a surprise? Considering one in three consumers spend a few days making major purchases like TVs and computers, there is obviously a significant challenge in front of benefits professionals to engage employees with their benefits. Especially when you consider the average cost of a computer is about $650, while the average amount spent by each employee annually on his or her benefits is $4,000. Employers, we don’t need to remind you that the employee is also spending an additional spending $19,000 of “your” money during that 19 minutes.
The fact that employees spend less than 20 minutes on benefit elections, as opposed to a few days on a computer or TV purchase, tells us employees don’t “shop” for benefits. They shop for electronics, cars, clothes and other easy-to-compare retail items. The consumer decision-making process for benefits is just too complex for the average employee. Research reinforces that point. A Maddock Douglas survey found that 30% of respondents agreed that, “Policies are too complicated for a regular person to understand,” and 20% said, “I’m not confident in my ability to choose the coverage plan that’s right for me.” The challenge for employers and benefit administrators is evident: With a short attention span for purchasing employee benefits, how do we maximize the opportunity to engage employees in their decisions?
HELPING HAND FOR EMPLOYEES
The idea of decision support for benefit elections has been a hot topic for years. But the engines driving decision support have been based on 1.0 (basic) technology. What we need now is a jump forward to 2.0 (advanced) solutions. These advanced solutions deliver what employers need: the opportunity for employees to engage in their health, lifestyle and work – not be distracted by how to use their healthcare.
If we want to engage employees in the decision-making process, technology must support a broad analysis of the employee and their family. That analysis should be inclusive of factors ranging from past healthcare utilization to financial risk tolerance, and the outcome of that analysis should be smart. We’re not just talking about an educated guess; we’re talking about creating a packaged plan offering driven by an advanced algorithm.
The trick is to make the evaluation process and product recommendation intuitive for employees. That’s where the power of user experience comes into play. Technology solutions must take the lead from existing consumer technology to streamline the evaluation and selection process.
THE POWER OF PACKAGING
The beauty of creating a 2.0 decision support tool is in the power of creating a total package based on specific and individualized data. For instance, a packaged plan for a young, healthy family who isn’t comfortable paying off a single large event might be inclusive of a high deductible health plan and HSA, dental, vision, hospital indemnity and accident plan. The inclusion of specific plans, including voluntary options, helps fill gaps for individuals or families who might not consider additional needs because of a lack of consumer knowledge. A “recommended package” approach can help employees better leverage their benefit offerings.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Advancements in technology will also drive smarter use of benefits. Push-communication tools (like those delivered via smartphone app), landing pages, email campaigns, good old-fashioned printed materials and other communication vehicles can also help employees maximize the benefits they have invested in. Imagine the ability to drive messaging to employees in a specific plan about the out-of-pocket cost differential between an emergency room visit versus an urgent care visit. Consider the possibility of pushing information about a teledoc or nurse line to help employees stay healthy without stepping foot in a clinic or hospital. These options will be real. Advanced connectivity via web services – with services ranging from a virtual health professional to health cost transparency tools – will make benefits technology a central component to benefits cost management, reduced employee absenteeism, and overall employee delight and engagement.