During the pandemic, we heard a lot about the harmful effects of delayed care. Employees who were afraid to see their doctors in person skipped routine checkups, leading experts to fear a “new pandemic” of unmanaged care. As businesses reopen, it’s tempting to think we’re past the point of crisis. However, we’re still dealing with the effects of delayed care. Yet we also know employees may be skipping care for another reason: they don’t understand their health care coverage.
As employers enter open enrollment and look toward the plan year ahead, uncertainties about reopening remain. Increasing benefits understanding is a sure way to address rising health plan costs and ensure employees get the care they need.
Fear is Driving a Care Crisis
In our 2021 Employee Benefits Insights Survey, employees told us they’re delaying care and skipping prescription medications because they don’t understand their health care coverage. For instance, we found that among the 1,600 employer-insured individuals in our survey, 40% delayed care last year because they didn’t know what was covered. Twenty-nine percent avoided taking medications as prescribed because of worry over cost. In addition to negative health effects created by delayed care, benefits understanding is also fueling fear: over 80% told us they were concerned about healthcare costs and 62% were specifically concerned about the costs of prescription drugs.
We also found younger workers were more likely to delay care than their older counterparts. We see this trend playing out right now; according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield study, millennials’ mental and physical health is declining at a rate that puts them on track to die faster than Gen Xers. To make matters worse, the rates of behavioral health conditions continue to rise — putting millennials at nearly twice the risk of having chronic physical conditions. Chronic illness drives about three-quarters of U.S. healthcare spending. Yet, especially when caught early, it’s generally both preventable and treatable. Between COVID-19, remote work, and a lack of HR communication tools, we can expect all this delayed care will hugely impact health insurance costs in 2021 and beyond.
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How Employers Can Reverse This Trend
Our current healthcare system leaves our workforce confused, frustrated, and disheartened. While we couldn’t control the pandemic, we can influence how well employees understand and use their benefits, especially as we approach open enrollment communications. Here are a few ways employers can reverse this trend.
Rethink your benefits communication strategy. Bridging the knowledge gap is the crucial first step toward better understanding, utilization, and satisfaction, so it’s time for employers to re-evaluate when and how they communicate.
When we asked employees to rate how well their HR teams communicated benefits, they gave them a 6 out of 10. It turns out that when employees have questions about their health benefits, over half turn to their benefits guide, 45% ask their insurance carrier, and 39% ask their HR team. But that’s not how employees want to view their benefits information. Our report revealed their top preferred sources as apps (28%) and email (23%).
HealthJoy’s Broadcaster tool allows you to send push notifications and in-app messages to your entire employee population. Your custom announcements are supported by year-round email campaigns and push notifications from our virtual assistant, JOY. We’ve found that by aligning benefits communications with employees’ preferences, HR teams can broaden their reach and educate their workforce beyond the open enrollment period.
Provide employees with navigation support. When employees need care and don’t know where to turn, they just don’t turn anywhere at all.
To curb rising healthcare costs, companies must offer navigation and support tools capable of guiding employees through the healthcare system and empowering them to understand their benefits. Cost-comparison tools and simple navigation solutions can make a world of difference.
HealthJoy’s navigation support starts with a centralized experience. As a front door for our member’s care journey, the app can help them find a provider, check progress toward their deductible, or access virtual care solutions. It’s supported by an expert team of healthcare concierges available 24/7 to answer questions, find a provider, and even schedule medical appointments. This on-demand support means that when employees have questions, they know exactly where to turn.
Emphasize virtual care. Telemedicine may provide a range of benefits like ease of use, care accessibility, cost savings, and better health outcomes. What we’ve found is that employees like it. According to our telemedicine pulse survey, of the people who tried telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic, 54% said they’ll seek virtual options for all routine healthcare services, and go in person specifically for services that can’t be done virtually.
Giving employees what they want might fall flat if they don’t know where to find these services. Seventeen percent of employees we surveyed didn’t think they had or weren’t sure about access to telemedicine, despite an uptick in utilization and awareness during the pandemic.
To make sure virtual care is useful in the future, employers and HR teams can focus on supporting these services with year-round communications. Education begins at open enrollment, when you can remind employees of the virtual services, including telemedicine, virtual behavioral health, Virtual MSK Care, and more, on offer and make the path to accessing those services clear. From there, regular reminders sent to their mobile devices — like those offered in our JOY Campaign Journeys throughout the year or custom campaigns through Broadcaster — can help increase awareness.
To fill the knowledge gaps, HR teams need to create a robust education campaign that keeps virtual care top-of-mind year-round.
How We Move Forward
Employees don’t have a complete picture of their benefits, and that’s generating fear. To get ahead of a delayed care crisis, employers must provide guidance using employees’ preferred platforms, emphasize the value of virtual care, and implement support tools that are easy to access and use.