Employee Communication Matters with High-Deductible Health Plans

Posted in: Employee Benefits

Change doesn’t come easily. When implementing a change in your benefits program, you have to communicate with your employees early and often. You also have to explain the reasons for the change and show your team how they will benefit from it. If your employees don’t understand their benefits, they’re likely not enrolling and using them properly, which may actually be costing you money.

One of the areas in which I see companies often struggle to communicate change is when introducing high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). HDHPs and HSAs, which enable participants to save money and pay for qualified medical expenses without federal tax liability, are increasingly popular. In fact, 82 percent of employers expect to offer a high-deductible plan with a personal account by the end of 2015, and this trend is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.

High-deductible health plans are consumer driven. They rely on the insured person to be able to make educated choices about the most cost effective places to receive health care. Consequently, employees have to understand where their dollars are spent — and how. The upside can be savings both for the employer and employees, particularly for healthier members of your workforce.

Whether preparing to implement a high-deductible plan for the first time or seeking to grow enrollment in an existing plan, consider the following communication strategies:

Communicate early.

Get the information out to your work force early so they can have time to absorb the information before making a decision. Generally, employees don’t spend much time thinking about their benefits. So don’t wait until open enrollment season, when new information about high-deductible plans will get lost in the rush to decide on a plan and get paperwork finished. If your employees head into open enrollment having already learned about the new options, they will be ready to make an informed decision about which programs are right for them.

Make it relevant.

What’s in it for me? This is what employees ultimately want to know. For instance, what’s going to happen the first time they go to their doctor with this new health plan? What about trips to the ER, recurring visits with specialists, and copays on prescription drugs? Give relevant examples and explain in clear terms how the money in their HSA will pay medical bills or can be saved for retirement. By doing the math for them, you’ll make it easy for your employees to understand how the plan can help their own unique circumstances and lives.

One size doesn’t fit all.

Knowing the demographics of your work force can give you insight on how your employees seek information. Then, you can spend your energy and channel your communications to places they’re most likely to access. For example, if you have a younger employee base, printing out information on paper might not work as well as delivering information through the web and social media. And if your employees span multiple generations, deploying a variety of communication methods is often the best bet.

Communicate year-round.

Don’t stop with open enrollment – keep the information flowing. Throughout the year, send out emails or newsletters with tips on how employees can get the most out of their benefit plans. This could include information about how to maximize their savings in their HSA, additional tools that are available from the insurance carrier, little known features of other benefits such as dental or life insurance, and even stories or information about employee wellness programs.

Whether you have a high-deductible health plan, a traditional plan, or a combination of choices, the bottom line is, the value of your benefit plan and therefore your savings are tied closely to how much your employees understand it.

Want to learn more about strategies for communicating benefits changes to your workforce? Please feel free to contact me at ehufstedler@psafinancial.com.