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Keys to Successful Implementation of Consumer-Driven Benefits January 12, 2009

Posted by Austin Baker in Consumer Driven Benefits, employee benefits.
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Employers everywhere are feeling the pinch of double-digit health insurance inflation. One trend that more employers are adopting as a possible solution is the consumer-driven benefits approach, which typically couples a high-deductible health plan with a personal health account, such as a health savings account (HSA) or and employer sponsored health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). The thinking behind this approach is that employees may be more careful about managing health care expenses when they’re footing a larger portion of the bill. To successfully implement the consumer-driven benefits approach with your employees, there are two critical factors that must be part of your implementation plan:

  • Voluntary benefits
  • Effective benefits communication

Voluntary Benefits Bring Employees Choice

With the move toward high-deductible health plans, your role is changing from providing and paying for traditional benefits to providing access to a wide variety of quality benefits — both core and voluntary. This way, you can maintain a competitive benefits package and still provide employees with options to lessen the effects of their increased financial risk for medical expenses:

1. Provide choices in health plans. Many employers are offering a menu of two or more health plans ranging from full coverage plans with higher premiums to high-deductible plans with lower premiums. Employees can then select health coverage that makes sense for their own situation.

2. Use voluntary benefits to expand benefits program choices. Voluntary benefits can enhance and expand your benefits program without additional budget constraints. You can offer a wide variety of individual and group voluntary insurance products from life to disability and supplemental health coverage, and you can fund some of the costs or let employees pay the premiums. Employees can then choose products they need to fill any coverage gaps.

3. Voluntary benefits fill in the gaps and reduce cost. A well designed voluntary benefits program can provide first dollar coverage. An HRA that has an up-front deductible will cost and employer significantly less. These savings can be used to partially fund a portable first dollar hospital indemnity plan. If you are using an HSA it may take a year or two to properly fund the accounts in order to provide the necessary cushion that an employee needs to take responsibility for his or her up-front health care expenses. An HSA compliant hospital indemnity plan gives an employee the breathing room that they need to learn how the new health plan will work.

Effective Benefits Communications Is Essential

With the consumer-driven benefits approach, if you don’t effectively communicate benefits, employees perceive the approach as mere cost-shifting. That’s why effective benefits communication is vital. A voluntary benefits partner can bring you not only product solutions but also benefits communications solutions, such as one-on-one employee sessions that cover core benefits in addition to voluntary benefits. When done well, benefits communications can help employees learn about their benefits and learn about the value of what their employer provides.

According to the Watson Wyatt WorkUSA 2004 study, “how well a company communicates the value of its health benefits can do more to retain top-performing employees than the actual richness of the benefits themselves.” In companies that don’t do a good job communicating the value of their rich benefits programs, only 22 percent of surveyed employees were satisfied with their benefits package. Conversely, in organizations that do a comprehensive job communicating the value of less rich benefit packages, 76 percent of employees were satisfied with their benefits.

Find a quality voluntary benefits provider who can help you successfully implement the consumer-driven benefits approach by bringing voluntary coverage choices and effective benefits communications capabilities. You can benefit through better management of your benefits program budget, an enhanced benefits program and improved attraction and retention rates for quality employees. Employees can benefit by having a variety of coverage choices to meet their needs and by getting help to understand their benefits and the value of them.