The challenge is making sure that employees have the tools to make informed decisions.
The good news is that employee benefits providers are attempting to make better use of the Internet to meet this need. The bad news is that access to brochureware, generic calculators and some back office applications doesn't seem to resonate with consumers.
CIGNA recently conducted a national survey of businesses and workers and found that while 80 percent of employers offer benefits information or tools online, just one in five employees has made use of them.
That's a pretty big disconnect, considering that all the parties -- benefits providers, employers and employees-- have the same goal: to improve the individual's opportunity for successful health care and financial outcomes.
In many cases, the portal is the leading edge approach. But while many portals fall short of meeting consumer needs and expectations, they can serve as an excellent foundation on which to create a more personalized and integrated environment to deliver better benefits experiences for consumers.
At CIGNA, we've launched the myCIGNA.com benefits portal to provide plan participants with detailed information about their health care and retirement accounts. It also lets them set preferences so that continually updated Web resources are aligned with their stage of life or health care information needs.
For retirement plan participants, personalization means they are no longer inundated with courseware that covers "Finances 101" and "Choosing a Retirement Home," but instead categorizes information that is useful and appropriate to preferences and interests. Similarly, health plan members can access information and tools specific to their concerns, such as a healthy baby immunization chart or a disease management program.
The portal offers an integration point for accessing information and receiving service. MyCIGNA.com provides information all in one place for health care plan participants (medical, dental and pharmacy) and retirement program customers (pension, 401(k), nonqualified plans and online brokerage services). Transactional tools and updated account information are being integrated with other forms of customer care, from service rep calls to phoning a registered nurse through a 24-hour health information line.
Web technology also offers increased opportunities for flexibility. Health plan applications can be recast as Web services that plug in all the authorized constituencies -- the employee, the doctor or hospital and the service provider -- thereby enabling delivery of a seamless, coordinated 360-degree view of the individual's health care information. From this vantage point, participants have a sense of greater control over their benefits and their health.
Investment in technology is critical because people must become more involved and make more decisions for themselves about the management of their health and financial well-being.
To do so, they have no choice but to be more informed and more engaged and, as an industry, we can no longer be passive in our efforts to help them. Gregory C. Donnelly (Gregory.Donnelly@cigna.com) is vice president, sales manager, sales division of Cigna HealthCare. CIGNA HealthCare is one of the nation's leading providers of health-benefit programs, with managed care networks serving 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. CIGNA HealthCare provides medical coverage through managed care and indemnity programs to more than 13.3 million people, including more than 250,000 in major Ohio markets. Reach Donnelly at (216) 642-2573.