For years, we’ve said that “healthcare costs are skyrocketing” or “the cost of care is climbing.” To put it more bluntly, employers will pay an average of over $15,000 – the price of a mid-size car – per employee family in healthcare costs this year. Employees themselves are far from immune; American households spend twice as much on healthcare as we did in the 1980s.
But while employees might know how to shop for shoes or find the best deal on dinner delivery, they’re far less savvy when it comes to employee healthcare expenses. So far, our education efforts haven’t worked. Most employees can’t even identify the four most common health insurance terms.
Instead, we have to shift the way employees buy healthcare.
Identify the choices driving up the cost of care
In most cases, it’s not enough to tell employees they should shop for healthcare. The process is just too complicated.
Over the years, we’ve learned that price transparency is a key that unlocks employees’ ability to become smart healthcare consumers. On the other hand, a lack of transparency makes it all too easy to overpay for employee healthcare expenses. For instance, pricing for procedures, imaging, and testing is notoriously murky.
This lack of transparency means employees can stumble at countless steps along their path to care. Maybe they’re going to an out-of-network doctor out of habit or using your city’s most expensive hospital system for every specialist visit. You can’t fix what you don’t understand. Identifying which choices drive up the cost of care should be your first step in changing the employee paradigm.
At the same time, you might find that employees are already using tools like telemedicine or your on-site clinic for regular needs. You can spend less time emphasizing the point solutions and cost-containment tools employees already love. Tracking utilization data can help you prioritize the knowledge gaps employees most need to hurdle.
Learn what they don’t know about employee healthcare expenses
Once you’ve identified the choices driving up care, you’ll need to understand what employees do (or more likely don’t) know. For instance, employees may see that they should choose an in-network provider, but the results of NOT doing so may be unclear. We know that healthcare and insurance are murky even for seasoned experts, and the target is continuously moving.
With that in mind, reflect on your last few employee education campaigns. What did you cover? Did the message influence metrics throughout the year? New employees arrive with wildly different levels of benefits education, so try administering a survey to identify knowledge gaps.
Finally, remember that employees’ spouses and dependents drive up the cost of care, too. According to the Department of Labor, women make 80% of the healthcare decisions in the U.S. If those women aren’t your employees, and you aren’t launching family campaigns to engage and educate them, you’re losing out a chance to make them smarter healthcare consumers, too.
Don’t wait until employees receive an unexpected bill to offer support. Identify the knowledge gaps and make a plan to address them beyond open enrollment.
Make Healthcare Shoppable with Price Transparency
Our healthcare system lacks price transparency, and it’s driving up costs.
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Offer tools to make better decisions
You might guess that education is the answer. After all, if employees aren’t already smart healthcare consumers, surely teaching them more about the subject will drive down employee healthcare expenses.
Not so far. Up to this point, we know that education alone hasn’t changed the conversation, and it’s not for lack of trying. Employers and their HR teams invest significant resources in training each year. Employees may report they understand their benefits, but it’s not the basics that drive up care. Instead, it’s the shifting landscape, misleading provider recommendations, and snap decisions.
To change the way employees consume healthcare, we must focus on making healthcare pricing more transparent.
To that end, our education efforts must include a walkthrough of any third-party navigation tools or provider search resources available to your employee population. Better yet, offer the ability to compare prices in one centralized benefits experience platform. Don’t just highlight these resources or give them a link in their benefits booklet. Show employees how these tools can help them identify lower-cost care in their geographic area.
Guide them through selecting a high-quality provider. Teach them to use the provider search tools on your insurance carrier’s website. Illustrate the cost savings with real-life stories (and numbers).
In short, focus not on telling them to change the way they shop for healthcare, but on showing them how to use price transparency to do it.
Provide in-the-moment navigation assistance
Finally, provide employees with the last line of help for the moments they need to make healthcare decisions.
The obvious choice for live support is your HR team. We’ve heard that many HR pros get desperate messages from employees who need guidance about specific procedures. The problem with that system is twofold. For one, some employees may not feel comfortable broaching sensitive medical topics with their HR team. For another, it’s a significant drain on your time and resources.
Luckily, healthcare navigation support is one role you can take off your HR team’s plate. Instead, choose a live support line or a chat tool, or invest in support through your benefits provider or a benefits experience platform.
Considering how employees struggle with healthcare consumption, you really can’t overemphasize this aspect of your benefits strategy. The good news is that by helping employees become better healthcare consumers, you’ll also invest in higher satisfaction. They’ll save money, love their benefits, and, most importantly, know exactly how to make decisions that are right for their health and their wallet.