Getting smarter about health benefits Featured

8:32am EDT February 23, 2005
Enrolling employees in health benefits plans can be a challenge. So when it comes time to do so, business leaders need a process that is fast, simple and hassle-free.

Luckily, today's health care isn't as primitive as it was in the past. There is a bevy of advanced, accurate tools employers can use to educate employees about benefits choices and their own health care. Any of these can help employers through one of the most stressful but important business functions they have to address.

One method business leaders should consider employing is online health benefits enrollment. Executives who already use this method have found that it provides the resources needed to help employees find the best available health plan for their individual needs and family budgets.

So what are these high-tech, high-touch tools, and how can business owners integrate them into their traditional corporate HR functions? Here are several tips to keep in mind when considering -- and introducing -- these tools to your company.

* The online enrollment experience should act as a resource, allowing employees to view all medical plan options and providing details on out-of-pocket expenses and paycheck deductions based on the employee's future health care expenditures.

* Employees should be provided with guidance toward plans that have the lowest potential overall cost based on the member's use of health care services. A comparison of costs and benefits of the current health plan versus the new plan options is particularly helpful to the employee.

* Online benefit enrollment and health plan selection tools educate employees about how much medical care they've used in the past and how much they're likely to use in the future. Most employees don't take the time to step back and analyze how often they take advantage of their health care benefits and which ones they use.

* Informed employees are much more likely to make better health care purchasing decisions for themselves and their families, and ultimately help reduce health benefits costs for themselves and their employers. Again, few employees recognize the true cost of health care benefits. They see deductibles and co-payments and don't realize what health care really costs.

* Many health insurers' online enrollment tools can now tell employees exactly where their health care dollars go, and, in some cases, provide cost estimates on medical and surgical procedures and the employee's share of the charges.

* Another increasingly popular feature of these online enrollment technologies is the ability for employees to check the balances of their health care flexible spending accounts, including the newly introduced, tax-free health spending accounts and health reimbursement arrangements.

These new e-tools create a user-friendly enrollment experience for employers, while providing employees with tools that are available year-round -- at work or at home -- to help them become better-informed health care consumers. And, a better-informed health care consumer can help your business maintain a stronger bottom line.

Alan Guzzino is the president of Humana's Atlanta, North Carolina and South Carolina market health plan operations and is responsible for the management, strategic planning and growth of those markets. Guzzino, an eight-year veteran of Humana, serves on the board of the Georgia Association of Health Plans. Reach him at