However, no employer can simply assume there will be employee acceptance for CDHC. Consumer-directed health care cannot succeed unless the consumer does the directing. That means that without a clear understanding of what’s being offered and how it works, employees are going to be reluctant to take part in a venture that they see as new and unfamiliar, and maybe even a bit frightening. One of the most important parts of your consumer-directed plan is the communication program you use to educate your employees.
The CDHC your company offers may be a Health Savings Account (HSA), a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), a Medical Savings Account (MSA) or some combination.
Regardless of the plan or plans, any consumer-directed health plan, “place(s) new burdens on employees, making them responsible for managing health care dollars,” writes Kathryn Tyler, in an article in HR Magazine. “Employees must not only buy into them, they also must use them to buy health care services more judiciously.”
Eliciting this buy-in requires effort on the part of the employer. “Offering HSAs, at least at the outset, can be a high-maintenance endeavor for an employer,” “The Wall Street Journal” reported in an article in July 2005.
When it comes to explaining the benefits of a complex insurance product, nothing beats repetition. Craft a message and repeat it often, in as many different forms as possible, is the advice of Pat Wiley, a financial education and counseling practice leader for Ernst and Young in New York. The more employees read or hear about the concept, the closer they come to understanding and accepting it.
To add to the complication, CDHC is new not just to employees, but to health care in general. That means that some hand-holding is necessary to guide employees through the ins and outs of plans. As more of the responsibility for health care is shifted back to the consumer, support, in terms of information and guidance, becomes crucial.
Rolling out CDHC programs can be most effective if you follow a five-track path.
- Organizational support. Offer train-the-trainer presentations to senior leadership and HR to explain the reason for making the benefit change and to clearly demonstrate how the program works from the member’s perspective.
- Employee awareness. Announce the change to employees, demonstrating the program’s importance and the value proposition to employees.
- Employee buy-in. Build understanding through in-office and home messaging tactics, utilizing easy-to-understand examples. Face-to-face meetings with all employees are highly recommended.
- Enrollment support. Provide enrollment support via phone and Web-based tools. Such tools must be easy to use so that consumers can feel comfortable with them. Consumers need to have ready access to account information, as well as control enough to manipulate that information in real time to serve their needs.
- Ongoing communication. Provide constant education and frequent updates throughout the year. With changes in health care occurring on what seems a monthly basis, keeping consumers up to speed is critical for them to make informed health care decisions.
As the popularity of CDHC continues to gain momentum, communicating with employees becomes more critical. Companies that provide necessary information and support in a timely manner will take a giant leap toward successful implementation.
Michael Taylor is executive director, sales & marketing, for UPMC Health Plan. The Health Plan, with over 435,000 members, is part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s integrated medical delivery system and is the only provider-led health plan in Western Pennsylvania. Previously, Taylor was part of a consumer-directed health plan based in Alexandria, Va. Contact Taylor at (412) 454-7534.