Consumerism is a growing trend in healthcare and employee benefits. With respect to company-sponsored health plans, it most often refers to offering a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) that is accompanied by lower per-pay premium costs as well as a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), both of which may be augmented by employer contributions and can help defray deductibles and coinsurance.
The terms “consumerism” and “consumer-driven health plan” refer to the fact that employees in these plans often have a lot more choice when it comes to spending their healthcare dollar, thus putting the control back in their hands, rather than in the offices of some giant HMO.
In many cases, especially when the employee is young, single, and healthy, an HDHP can make a lot of sense-mostly because it can save both the employee and the company a great deal of money.
But unfortunately, many employers are finding that when they first offer an HDHP to their employees (alongside more traditional offerings), they are met with chirping crickets-and a very low adoption rate. When other employers have changed over completely to an HDHP, they are often met with confusion and sometimes outright hostility.
Why is this, if an HDHP can be a beneficial option if used correctly? There are a few reasons:
- First of all, HDHPs aren’t the right choice for every employee. Someone with a chronic condition, for example, who needs to visit the doctor often, and perhaps take a number of maintenance prescription medications, will likely end up paying much more out of pocket with an HDHP than with a more traditional HMO, POS, or PPO plan. For that reason among others, it’s probably not the best idea to offer ONLY an HDHP (at least to begin with).
- Lack of understanding. Many employees-and the public at large-have no idea how an HDHP works. If they’re not educated and don’t know how it applies to them, how can they be expected to adopt?
- Fear. Nothing can strike terror into the heart of an employee-especially, say, one with a pregnant wife or a special-needs child-than the thought that his or her medical benefits are being reduced or will cost more.
Fortunately, employers can help mitigate all of these obstacles. First, if at all possible, it makes sense to offer a more traditional HMO or POS plan to accompany a new HDHP-at least for the first few years. As time goes on and understanding among the workforce grows, so will your adoption rate.
Second, COMMUNICATE! Don’t spring the offering on employees, tell them when it’s coming and why. Educate them-send them emails, put booklets in their mailstops, mail postcards to their homes, hold Q&A sessions, and do all of it a lot, as much as your budget allows. Don’t think you’re over-communicating, because there is no such thing.
Here’s an example: Trion’s Communications Practice was able to double one client’s HDHP adoption rate in one year just by enhancing HDHP information in all Open Enrollment materials and holding targeted HDHP webinars.