Category: Uncategorized

Communicating Benefits to Remote Workers

According to a recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans:

  • Only 19% of employers report that their employees have a “high level” of understanding of their benefits
  • 80% of employers state that their employees don’t even read the benefits collateral
  • Approximately 50% of employees don’t understand the employee benefit materials

With continued increases to the cost of healthcare, employers changing insurance carriers, changes in benefits, and implementation of consumer driven health plans, communication is critical.  In fact, 65% of employers say employee education is a high priority and 40% of employers now have a budget focused solely on employee benefits.  There is simply too much at risk for employees not to understand their benefits. Accompanied with the fact that 4.7 million workers are now working remotely, strategically communicating with employees regarding their benefits needs to be even more of a “creative” process and can seem like wrangling cats.

It is so important to effectively communicate benefits to remote employees because of the positive correlation that exists between effective communication and the perceived value of benefits from employees. Here are the top 10 strategies.

Top 10 Benefit Strategies

  1. Benefits need to be communicated year-round, not just during open enrollment, to keep benefits forefront for the employee 
  2. Leverage word of mouth using trusted managers, champions and/or peers on-site that are trained on how to effectively communicate benefits. When choosing champions or peers, remember employees who are “early adopters” are your best picks.
  3. Implement “word of mouth” strategies and foster a culture of trust and open dialogue where employees explain and share their own benefits experience and how it might help their colleagues, i.e. “I used telehealth for pink eye which saved me time, money and stress!”
  4. Use short videos or live/recorded webinars to employees to explain benefits (link one of our videos)
  5. Since the average individual spends an average of 4.7 hours a day on their smartphone, there is an opportunity for employers to capture employees’ attention through social media, such as Facebook, Blogs and YouTube, to help with communications
  6. Develop surveys and focus groups to get feedback from employees on the best way to reach both them and their spouses/dependents
  7. Create your communications while considering
    • Language barriers
    • Life stage
    • Multiple generations
    • Shift workers
  8. Create educational assessments, i.e. “How well do you understand your benefits?” and reward completion with incentives such as prize drawings, PTO or health savings accounts contributions
  9. Engage spouses/dependents with communications especially as it pertains to employee assistance programs, expert medical opinion services and carrier programs
  10. Communicate using simplified language (not insurance jargon) and multiple communication channels to reach different demographics, ideas include:
    • Snail mail
    • Email
    • Print distributed on-site
    • Internal websites
    • External websites
    • Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
    • Games
    • Videos
    • Texts

Distance Learning

Though effective benefits communications is essential to all firms, distance challenges creates an even greater need. Communications are essential to not only benefit satisfaction, but also for knowing how to access all benefits and what for.

When considering a “distance” situation, where a group of employees are not in working in the same location, a company needs to rely heavily on digital forms of communication (look at #5 in particular). Futhermore, it pays to have a “work from home” policy in place. This can help to set a standard for when and how your team is communicating. This will to understand the best method of benefit communications (i.e. hosting a group meeting on Microsoft “teams”).

Creating a Successful Remote Work Policy

Image working remotely

COVID-19 is already having a major impact on American society and industry. Both the State and Federal government is implementing guidelines for reducing or limiting the transmission of this disease, which has created challenges for how businesses operate. Many companies in the hospitality and travel industries are closing or suspending their operations altogether, other industries are directing employees whenever possible to work remotely for the near term. If your organization had a work from home (WFH) policy in place before, you may just be expanding the number of employees that utilize it and this may be a good time to update your policy. If your company isn’t currently set up to allow employees to work remotely, there are several things to consider and implement in order to create a successful WFH policy.   

Focus on Communication          

Similar to what we recommend for benefit communications, a rollout strategy is needed for any new initiative such as working from home. One of the greatest challenges for a remote work force is improving communications. In a shared space, there are countless conversations, and interactions that take place in person every day that can be a challenge to replicate, but there are things that you can do:

  • Use a messaging software that allows team members to interact in real time on projects
  • Update phone directories with personal phone numbers and make it accessible to all employees
  • Establish clear expectations for work schedules time and availability as working from home can quickly blur the lines between work hours and personal time
  • Utilize and consistently update shared calendars to make it easy for teams to find time to have video/conference calls
  • Create social media groups through Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc, to allow employees the ability to connect to help maintain and develop internal relationships
  • Set consistent team virtual meetings
  • Use video messages whenever possible, if there is an update from leadership, team managers or HR, a video message can be helpful to bridge the gap between in person and email communications
  • Educate employees on any new tools or software that is implemented to ensure they can stay connected
  • Ask employees about the challenges they experience when transitioning to a remote workforce, what do they need to be successful?

Staying Engaged

A fear some organizations have about a remote working is that there will be a decrease in productivity. Providing clear expectation for each employee and updating or setting their success measurements is vital. Additionally, clearly communicate the consequences for employees that are not following the rules and expectations for working remotely. Employers should also make a conscious decision to trust employees to do their work instead of leaning into the feeling that they need to increase their levels of micromanaging.  

Learn from Others

What have other organizations done that are like yours in terms of demographics, location and available technology that have been successful or unsuccessful in implementing a remote working strategy? Asking peer groups, member associations, and other industry leaders what they have done that has worked for them can save you time and stress in avoiding their pitfalls.

Legal Considerations

Check with an attorney to determine any legal ramifications of implementing a remote work policy in your state.

Treating Expensive Healthcare

Healthcare costs have risen approximately 2x faster than inflation & wage increases. Employee deductibles are rising, the cost of receiving care is more expensive, and the average employee is financially squeezed more than ever.

Without getting into the causes of heatlhcare cost inflation, it’s important to look at what you can do to mitigate your own personal costs, as employers and business owners.

Tactics That Fail

Managing healthcare costs in the 2010’s consists of one primary action: switching to a high deductible plan. The theory being that if the consumer has to pay more, they will be more cognizant of their expenses. This is great in theory, but it has one massive problem: it encourages people to forego the doctor and illnesses/sicknesses aren’t caught early. This is bad for the individual, for the employer, and for the insurer.

Another tactic that has been popular is inserting cost containment programs (i.e. disease management, telehealth) to create efficiencies. The problem being that they don’t get used and ROI isn’t easy to track. Sometimes an employer will open their own clinics, but only 4%-8% of claims are really impacted.

The last tactic that firms lean on is to bid the health plan out to each relevant carrier, each year. This encourages the carriers to bid on the business to win it for the (presumably) long-haul. The insurer is planning on you being there for a good few years, so they may give you a preferential rate for the first year. The problem with this is that you’ll have ot pay for it during the subsequent years.

Tactics That Succeed

So if these tactics don’t work, then what should a company do? Firstly, these tactics can work, if done correctly, and as a part of an overall strategy. Consider the following:

High Deductibles Can Work: Your HDHP can motivate employees to be better consumers, you just have to make sure that they know how to use their health plan, and that they have enough support to make decisions (like when to go to the doctor). A HDHP should ideally be paired with an HSA. This allows the individual to hedge their bets on the fact that they wont be sick every year, and can use that premium savings to actually save for the futre. This way, if they have a HDHP, they can afford the out of pocket maximum when they do hit their deductible.

Cost Containment Can Work: Most companies have at least a few vendors in their benefits package. This might be a telehealth service, or maybe an enrollment company. If you engage an active management strategy, these can really work to your advantage. You just have to maintain a system of checks and balances to ensure that the vendor is meeting their targets each month (i.e. how many people have they worked with? Do they have accurate contact information?)

Education, Education, Education: What’s included in your enrollment strategy? You probably have some sort of informational seminar or packet that goes out. This simply isn’t enough. Firstly, you should be educating your benefits year-round. Over 50% of employees can’t name all of their benefits. They simply can’t remember them, much less accurately select the correct ones during open enrollment. There’s more to this strategy, but simply being aware of a year-round education strategy is a good start.

Check out our blog on using social media to engage your employee benefits.

Care Facilities: Cheap or Expensive

We all know there’s a ton of waste in the healthcare system. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but one I would like to touch on is choosing the right kind of place to go to get care. Choosing the right facility might mean your own home if you have something like a cough or sinus infection. It might mean something entirely different depending on your illness. Choosing wisely will save you time and money, yet most people don’t really think about it because they are used to doing the same thing time after time, year after year. I compiled a list of what the options are and when they might be helpful.

$ TELEHEALTH – Telehealth means getting care from your laptop, computer or phone. You can see or speak with real doctors from your state. It’s is the least costly option for medical visits and it’s available 24/7. They can treat minor issues like colds, coughs, sinus infections, bladder infections, rashes, and much more. If you feel you need a psychiatrist or psychologist, you can do it via the internet. Typically, you get your treatment plan immediately and a when needed, a prescription can be ready at your pharmacy within minutes. Think if you have a sick kid and it’s 3:00 a.m. (because that’s when kids get sick, of course) and you can see a doctor on your phone. How handy is that? Sometimes an employer will pay for these visits, so everyone should check with their plan to find out if they have a preferred vendor. 

$$ CONVENIENCE CLINIC – Go to minute clinics like CVS or Walgreens. They are open during regular business hours and offer extended hours like nights and weekends. No appointments are needed. They can treat minor health issues like colds, flu, ear and eye infections, and sore throats. The wait is usually relatively short, and you can usually shop while you wait. That’s just fantastic.

$$$ PRIMARY CARE CLINICS – Office visits to see your doctor are open during regular business hours. You need an appointment, and they are great for non-emergency issues like preventive care, routine care for general issues, screenings and vaccines and referrals to specialty care. If you feel you need to be seen, primary clinics are much more efficient than urgent care. Wait times vary, but most likely you’ll see a doctor within a fairly short time.

$$$$ URGENT CARE CLINICS – Open days, nights and weekends. Visit urgent care when your concern is urgent but not life-threatening. They are best for minor cuts, sprains, and burns, rashes, fevers, X-rays and lab testing. It’s a great option when your primary clinic is closed. Wait times vary but are typically longer than an office visit.

$$$$$ EMERGENCY ROOM (ER) – Open 24/7. Go to an emergency room or call 911 if you have a life-threatening situation. Things like chest pain, shortness of breath, uncontrolled bleeding, poisoning or other serious illnesses and injuries require an ER. Wait times are dependent on the severity of your situation and tend to be longer if you go with a minor condition.

Everybody wants to save time and money on their healthcare. If folks can get comfortable moving out of the regular routine to try something different, going to the correct spot can really be financially beneficial. It can also save you a whole lot of time, and who isn’t excited about that?

EVERYBODY WANTS TO SAVE MONEY

2 of our clients saved a ton of money last week – Here’s how
We’re all about changing behaviors. One of the simplest behaviors that you can change is to  do a bit of research. One of our clients needed an MRI. He called his insurance carrier to make sure the MRI was covered and to ask how much it would cost. The answer: $1100.  Then he checked with Trig. Trig showed him a few options for stand-alone MRI clinics (he found one in near him), the company guaranteed that no MRI will cost more than $600, so his savings last week was at least $500.

Another client was paying $400 every month ($4,800 per year) for one of his prescription medications. Because this prescription was so expensive, he checked with Trig for solutions. Trig introduced him to GoodRx which is also located on our Top Websites page. Through GoodRx, he was offered a manufacturer discount coupon which paid the first $2400 for his medication each year.  His savings last week – $2400.

By asking questions, doing some research and thinking ahead, these people were able to save themselves serious amounts of money. We know that it’s not always easy to make huge changes, but even little changes can have a big impact. Knowing how to solve medical issues isn’t always easy. That’s why we work to guide you through the mess and help you find the right answers and the right care.

Is it REALLY free healthcare after I reach my deductible?

Before we begin, let’s review 4 points:

  1. Insurance carriers aren’t in business to lose money. United Healthcare reported $163.3 billion of revenue in 2017.
  2. There is no such thing as free healthcare. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get BOGOs at your clinic?.
  3. This year’s insurance premiums are mostly based on last year’s claims
  4. More than half of Americans (57%) have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts according to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey. Don’t have to feel alone!

Those four statements were running through my head as I read an article on making the most of a high deductible health plan. The article at first glance made some sense. The main premise was that if you are facing a surgery or similar healthcare situation that will bring about significant medical bills after you’ve hit your deductible, then why not pile on the medical services during that same year. After all, once you’ve reached your deductible, the rest of the year you get free healthcare, right? Well, not so fast.

It’s important to understand that a HDHP is a health plan with an annual deductible of at least $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage. According to point #4, that means 57% of us can’t afford our HDHP since we have less than $1,000 in savings. Then, remember point #3 – insurance companies don’t lose money in the long run. Therefore, if medical claims exceed premiums this year, the insurance companies will increase premiums next year, meaning either your monthly premium will increase, your deductible will increase or both.

Now let’s “follow the dollar” through this scenario. According to the Business Insider, the average cost of having a baby in the US is $10,808. Let’s say you have a $3,000 deductible, so you will obviously blow past it with the birth of your precious one. Once you hit $3000, your insurance carrier will then pick up the remainder of the balance and any of your healthcare that follows in that plan year is “free”. Therefore, you either decide to have some unnecessary medical procedures or you have needed procedures and don’t feel the need to price shop since you don’t have to pay anyway. Sound reasonable? Yes, according to the article I read. However, what happens next year to the cost of your healthcare? According to the annual Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey, insurance premiums have continued to rise ever since they began measuring them in 1999, so most likely, that’s your answer.

According to Benefitfocus, a benefits technology and services firm, 70% of large employers offered at least one HDHP either in addition to a traditional plan or exclusively as a full replacement for traditional coverage. Here’s the conundrum: most of us can’t afford our high deductible plans now and are hearing messages that if the unfortunate happens and we do exceed our deductible in a plan year, the remainder of the year is “free”. This sets us up for a downward spiral for the next year and so on and on and on.

What is the answer – earn more and save more? That sounds great but unfortunately is not always possible. What is possible is to learn how to be a savvy medical consumer by increasing your healthcare literacy. Learn how to compare costs when it comes to pharmaceuticals and medical procedures. Learn how to find quality care in your network. If you are among the 57% that has limited savings, ask the doctor or hospital for a low- or no-interest installment plan and always ask whether a less expensive, alternative treatment is available. Remember, healthcare is a consumer good and we need to treat it as such. The good news is that it isn’t hard, The Definitive Guide on Increasing Employee Healthcare Literacy will show you how.

Healthcare Literacy – What Most People Don’t Understand

Health Literacy is defined as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions”. However, over 88% of Americans are not actually “health literate”. That means that nearly 9 out of 10 adults lack the skills needed to manage their healthcare. Further, the average patient reads at about a 5th grade level when it comes to healthcare. And unfortunately, the medical field and health insurance is only growing more complex.

Read More…

How to Explain Health Literacy to Employees and Co-Workers

Every year during open enrollment meetings, you have the “pleasure” of standing up in front of your employees and delivering the news that their health insurance premiums are rising again, so in effect, they are getting a salary decrease. They are going to hurl questions at you, (if you’re lucky) or throw things at you, (if you aren’t) and both you and they feel helpless to do much about it. What if we could write a different narrative – one where your employees understood why their healthcare premiums keep rising and actions they could take to help control that upward spiral? The reward to you is lower healthcare costs and appreciative employees, the reward to them is simply, better health.

Here are 5 ways to improve your employees’ healthcare literacy that will help them to control costs.

  1. Use the appropriate level of care. Since your employees are the only ones who can decide when to enter the healthcare system, it is important for them to understand what type of care is available, so that they can make the best decision for their situation. When making this decision, they should consider both cost as well as the level of care required to adequately treat their condition. It is the only way to ensure that they are getting the right kind of care so that they receive the best care for the best price.
  2. Use an in-network provider and facility whenever possible (which is most of the time). In network refers to providers or health care facilities that are part of a health plan’s network of providers with which it has negotiated a discount. Your employees should be encouraged to create an online account with their insurance carrier. Once they are logged in, they can use their carrier’s provider search tool to find an in-network provider.
  3. Use price comparison tools for both medical and pharmaceuticals. Costs for office visits, procedures and tests can vary greatly from one doctor to the next as can prescriptions vary from one pharmacy to the next. Your employees should learn how to shop for affordable care and they can save hundreds or thousands of dollars while making informed decisions about their healthcare.
  4. Get a second opinion when a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is suggested. Your employees should learn how and when to get a second opinion to avoid unnecessary care. A second opinion can help your employees:
  • Ensure their diagnosis is correct
  • Select a treatment plan that is best for them
  • Learn about clinical trials
  • Understand their condition better
  • Get answers to their questions
  • Become an informed, active partner in their healthcare
  • Find peace of mind
  1. Use a bill review and negotiation service. There can be a large disparity in the cost of services, so your employees should learn how to review their bills for accuracy and how to negotiate a lower rate. One way to negotiate rates is to ask for the cash price.

Getting your employees to take these actions requires a shift in behavior. The most important factor to achieve behavior change success is that leadership must be completely onboard. Help your C-suite realize the impact on the organization of their employees learning how to get the best care possible for the best price. How much does it cost the organization if the top sales performer is out for an unnecessary surgery? You may also need to help your employees realize how becoming a savvy healthcare consumer impacts not only their family’s pocketbook, but more importantly, their health. When your employee finds out that their child’s surgery didn’t happen because they got a second opinion, that “avoided surgery story” will permeate throughout the company and sway others to do the same.

If you wish to learn more about health literacy options that will not only save your organization money but save you time, check out our healthcare literacy guide. This 10-minute read will give you many tips to avoid overpayment for medical services and improper care. Bringing these solutions to your management team will make you a Human Resource’s Superstar in their eyes.

Overcoming Language Barriers in Workplace Healthcare (and improve employee engagement)

One of the most common issues that we encounter in workplace benefits is the language barrier. When it comes to healthcare, the simple truth is that benefits must be communicated successfully. Between your health plan itself, to new cost-savings benefits that you’ve added (tele-health anyone?), you must be prepared to educate your employees about them or face abysmal utilization.

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Getting a Fair Price Shouldn’t Be a Struggle

I’m a 50 year old woman (or at least somewhere near 50) who needs to get a routine bone density scan.  My doctor suggested it as part of my preventive care routine, and I heard it was painless and easy so I consented.  No big deal to schedule, my doctor told me, her office would make the appointment.

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