How to empower employees to manage their health care costs

While health care costs continue to rise, recent studies show that almost half of those costs are either unnecessary or otherwise avoidable. To reduce those expenses, more organizations are making sure their employees are empowered to make better health care choices on their own.

“When employees understand their health insurance, they can make good decisions that benefit themselves and their employer,” says Veronica Hawkins, Medical Mutual Vice President, Government Accounts. “That’s why it’s important for organizations to ensure their employees are using all the tools available.”

Smart Business spoke with Hawkins about why these should be a central part of every organization’s health care benefits, what types of tools may be found and how they can make sure employees are using them effectively.

Why are these aids important?

As the cost of health care continues to rise, it’s getting more difficult for organizations to keep the coverage they want to provide for employees. In the last couple of years, consumer-driven health plans have become a popular option. They encourage employees to take a more active role in how their health care dollars are spent.

But for employees to be truly confident in their decisions, they need the right tools to understand cost and quality. In addition to helping employees make more informed decisions, these aids can have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line.

What tools should employees be using?

Useful aids available today really put employees in control so they can make informed decisions. Organizations should take advantage of every chance to encourage their employees to put them to use. Beyond simply looking for a doctor in their network, employees now can better manage their health care expenses.

For organizations with consumer-driven health plans, employees are more conscious of how much they spend on health care. In the last few years, more employees are accessing their plans online or through mobile devices. That helps them keep track of their expenses more easily, and know how close they are to reaching their out-of-pocket maximum.

There are also tools available to help employees manage their prescription drug needs, either directly through their insurance carrier or through a pharmacy benefit manager. Employees can use these aids to order their medications online, as well as research options that could save them money, such as generic alternatives.

How are the types of tools evolving?

They are more focused on transparency. Today, consumers want to do their own research and compare their choices before making an expensive purchase. Health care really isn’t any different. As employers shift more health care costs to employees, the toolbox needs to enable choice and provide transparency in costs and quality.

Education is a huge part of the process. To make good decisions before having a surgery or procedure, for example, employees need to understand their treatment options and how their plans would cover them.

We’re always working to give our members better tools to support their health care decisions. Next year we are introducing a new platform that we think will help them select doctors and hospitals in the network, compare costs and evaluate quality for any medical services they may need. Organizations and their employees need that kind of information to make truly informed decisions.

What is the best way to promote the tools?

Organizations need to have a multi-channel approach for engaging their employees. For example, a health care insurance provider may partner with employers to create customized approaches that drive employee engagement. These approaches are only valuable when employees know of them and understand how and when to use them. Those efforts are most successful when organizations strategically partner with their insurance carrier to raise awareness and help employees plan and use their coverage more effectively.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual