Benefits Communication: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

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It’s a wait-and-see year for employers, in part driven by the seemingly endless legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

But health care is big this year, like it’s been every other year in recent memory.

Whether or not you believe ACA successfully or unsuccessfully reformed the structure of health insurance in America, you’ll agree costs are still an issue. Cheryl DeMars of The Alliance succinctly said, “The work of bending the cost curve is largely the business of physicians and hospitals, employers and consumers — not regulators.”

Time to step-up health care education

Patients — your employees — are reluctant participants in our nation’s shifting health care landscape.

How we pare back our costs — whether in anticipation of the Cadillac tax or a shift to a private exchange — doesn’t matter. As employers, we influence how well Americans manage the increasing percentage of their budgets spent on health care.

So, as you continue to focus on benefit design and administration, employees also need you to step up your health care education efforts. The era of sophisticated, metrics-based communication has arrived.

Where should you focus your efforts? We see three major areas:

1. We need language to advocate for better health

Literacy is the foundation of citizenship — the ability to advocate for oneself, family and community. It is the prerequisite for understanding and debating issues framed by people with opposite interests. Health literacy is a responsibility and a requirement for all Americans.

Yet, who’s taking up the charge to achieve it? ACA attempted to standardize how health insurance terms are defined and presented in the newly mandated Summary of Benefits and Coverage. This is just one example of many attempts to increase health literacy nationwide — insurance companies, doctors, nurses, hospitals, prescription drug makers, translators and employers all have a role to play in giving patients simple, actionable information.

What’s the payoff? Literacy has a direct relationship with health outcomes.

2. We must embrace the financial protection of health insurance

For most people, the amount of their co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles dominate how they perceive the value of their health insurance.

We’ve all heard people who boast that they can go to the doctor as much as they want for just a $20 co-pay. However, have you ever heard anyone brag about their out-of-pocket maximum — about how if an unspeakable accident ever happened, their family could avoid bankruptcy and pay just a fraction of their total medical bills?

If we hope to realize the promise of consumerism and shield employees from crippling financial bills, Americans must grasp that health insurance is first an insurance plan — not a payment plan for routine health problems. We can shift the spotlight and still emphasize the importance of wellness and prevention.

3. We need skills/confidence to use quality and value data

Individuals need more help connecting the dots between aspects of the health care system.

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As employers explore and implement transparency tools — lured in part by the opportunity to save claims dollars — we must focus on small steps and specific behaviors. A recent Harvard Public Health poll finds health incidents contribute to Americans’ top stresses.

We can’t forget that individuals largely operate emotionally, not rationally, when shopping for health services. How can we frame our messages in a way that acknowledges this complex mental state?

We’ll dive into these three topics in upcoming articles. As always, we’ll offer practical tips on how communication concepts can help you address them with your employees.

This was originally published on the Benz Communications blog