3 Ways to Support Your Employee’s Healthcare

 

As we’ve looked at in the past, a lot of companies have transitioned to a high deductible health plan. We know that it’s a smart move if you want people to take control of their care and help to keep costs sustainable. But is it enough to let them figure it out for themselves? Is it enough to hand them the keys to your multi-million dollar plan and expect for them to arrive safely every time? You know where I’m going with this one – no, it’s not.

 

People need support -they want support. You’d be surprised by the sheer amount of employers that tell us that their people don’t want their help, only to realize after implementing a literacy program that people really, really do want help. Why wouldn’t they? Healthcare is expensive for the both of you, and most people are happy to take the support where they can get it.

Let’s look at a few ways that you can help your employees get the care they need and how you (the person in the leadership role) can help them to get there:

1.      Keep an open-door policy – I’m proud to say that this is probably the area where companies feel most comfortable. Whoever manages your benefits (be it the HR department, management or the finance guys) should encourage employees to ask questions. You may not always have the answers, in fact, you probably won’t have the answers. But you should point them to the direction where they can get the answers. This is really pretty easy typically as your carrier can help out with a lot of that stuff.

2.      Send employees guides – Ok, this isn’t necessarily so clear or obvious. But you should think about some of the bigger things that people have issues with. Things like getting to the doctor, knowing where to go when they need to get medical help (looking at the levels of care) or learning how to pay bills (or even that they can dispute them). Your population will have its own idiosyncrasies and needs, and based off this you can tailor the information that you give them. Trig has free guides and tipsheets that should get you most of the way there. Check out our blog for that, and you can start passing these things out or posting them around the office.

3.      Purchase a healthcare literacy platform – This isn’t a shameless plug for Trig, yes we are this, but you can look elsewhere as well. But we feel strongly about combining your benefits and information into one place because it actually works. Think about the way that technology progresses, it consolidates your problems into more digestible chunks. That’s exactly what these programs do, they break down your benefits, explain them and tell you where and how to get better care.

If you’re doing all 3 of these things, then you can sit back and relax. You’re doing your part. As a matter of fact, no, your work isn’t done. I ask you to go out and tell people about what you’re doing. The world needs more companies that care about their benefits. And the best way that we can help is to talk about it.

How Trig Works with Brokers

 

We Understand Brokers

We here at Trig like to think that we understand brokers. You see, way back in 1987 we started out as a health insurance brokerage. Once upon a time before the world of Obamacare and “health-tech”, we were working with our clients on not only normal broker stuff (renewals, shopping out your benefits etc.), but we were also involved in developing our own proprietary beneftis administration products. Things like enrollment and HRA administration, things that now seem standard but were quite revolutionary at the time. The point that I’m trying to make is that we understand, very well, the role that brokers play in the industry. And we realized that benefits administration was only a part of the equation, and that we can do better.

That’s why we started Trig. We were tired of seeing people fall into the same traps year after year, driving their costs to extortionate levels. And we knew that we could do something about that. We can simplify their healthcare experience, and provide them with guidance (things like finding a doctor and reducing prescription costs) and the tools to do it.

With that in mind, Trig is dedicated to working with the best brokers in the industry. Trig functions as a third party that can draft communications on behalf of the broker, the employer or both. Simply put we can help.

 

How Trig Can Help You

  1. Simplify! – Trig simplifies all of your benefits information. From there we use our platform to link, explain and guide the individual through using the available services and healthcare situations. Trig specializes in communicating step-by-step instructions to guide people through any healthcare situation. No jargon and no confusion. We know that’s a bit unthinkable, but we make it easy. Why does this matter to the broker? Because this translates into better and cheaper benefits, keeping your clients happy.
  2. Enhance your Offerings – It’s become a full-time job (actually several full time jobs) keeping up with the different companies, services and products that exist in the healthcare marketplace. We specialize in conducting our own research in vetting out the best products that provide real value. We can help you put in place the best products that are a natural fit with your clients. From there, we work with the company leadership to implement the service, and communicate it to the employees. We take all of the company’s products (current or new) and increase engagement. We know you’re sick of people not using your telehealth program, and that stops now.
  3. Increase Competitiveness – Competition amongst brokers is more fierce than it’s ever been. Your companies will have a better overall healthcare experience and enhance the current products. Think of it like your current benefits plan on sterroids, plus a new set of services.  Large or small, brokerage houses are held to an extremely high standard, and we can help you maintain that reputation.

How Education And Outreach Can Beat The Odds

 

As we often discuss in this article series, the notion of healthcare education and outreach is very important to us and to our clients. We firmly believe that it is key to making an impact in your claims cost, and in getting an overall positive experience out of your care. But can we really expect to see an impact? You can. By targeting individual programs that solve specific issues that a company may be facing, and promoting the heck out of it, you can seriously make an impact. You see, people traditionally haven’t been in the driver’s seat of the claim management role. Until now. You can teach people how to ask the right questions at the right time, educate them on the process and give them your most effective tools and solutions.

Consider this statistic – about 90% of a groups claims come from 30% of that population. That means that there are a very small amount of high healthcare users. One might think that we should hone in on just that population and work with them. Unfortunately that’s not the case. You’re going to want to provide the same level of education to all plan members as someday a new group of people are going to comprise that 30%. Let’s take a look at one of our dearest clients, and what they’ve done to reduce their plan costs.

 

Our Client: How their belief in the theory of managing their health plan through the members improved their outcomes

Average Our Company
Number of Employees 51
Insured Members 96 92
Members eligible for Disease Management 28 31
Members Participating in Disease Management 2 28

 

Statistically speaking, this group is quite average in terms of population size. Where they excelled was in their utilization of the carrier’s disease management program. By using Trig’s outreach and education, we were able to boost engagement by a multiple of 14 times. It just goes to show, that even with a relatively small population, a huge difference can be made.

Plan members are not stupid, they just haven’t been given the tools to navigate this process on their own. With more education, you will get less medication and less cost and more productive lives. And this translates into a better overall care experience that costs less.

 

 

What’s the ROI of Understanding your Health Plan?

 

Health Literacy. It’s an oft discussed topic and its one that we mention pretty much all the time. Health literacy has been linked directly with patients care outcomes, and, unsurprisingly, poor health literacy translates to poor treatment outcomes. With the mass shift in health plans towards high deductible plans, there’s a lot of pressure on the consumer to pay attention to what they’re doing. And key to this strategy is understanding how to be successful in a “consumerist” environment. Simply put, without understanding how to use the care system (and identify simple terms like deductible and copay), it becomes hard to get cost effective healthcare.

What I’m curious about is the notion of ROI in healthcare. In a previous article, we discussed the idea that having a health program is often not subject to ROI. Why? Because you can’t quantify value. And you can’t put a number or a price on people’s health. So, what about when it comes to additional tools like literacy programs? Is it possible, or even logical, to apply an ROI to those programs? Under normal circumstances I would argue that an ROI can be applied to just about any business expense. But healthcare is not a normal expense. It doesn’t play by the same rules. The cost of a company’s health insurance pretty much changes at random (at least it feels that way), and because of that we don’t often hold it to the same standards as we would other expenses.

 

Now, let’s run with this idea. We don’t have to provide hard data to justify ROI, but we do have to see value out of our purchases. Otherwise why would we spend money on them? Perhaps if we take the example of “wellness” as a product to analyze. We know that you can’t put a number on someone going for a run each day, or eating more broccoli than last month. But can we expect to see value? Maybe. How about programs like telehealth? You know that the average cost of a telehealth appointment for one of your employees is exceptionally low. You can’t quantify the time they’d have had to take to go to the doctors and miss work, however. But I think that a reasonable person would conclude that it is a worthy expense. You save some money. You save some time. Everybody wins. No need for hard facts and figures.

 

Now, how about health literacy (back to our favorite topic)? Do you need to provide ROI for a health literacy program? Or does this fall into the “obviously beneficial but not quantifiable” camp? Like we mentioned before, health literacy is about attacking your current health costs by improving the quality of care. Let’s dig deeper into this example. If a health literacy program were to be effective, it would teach your employees to do things like shop around for cheaper prescriptions, or teach them to verify each diagnosis so that they don’t get the wrong treatment or surgery. It’s not something that you can necessarily put a hard figure on, because you can’t know how deep they would have gone down the rabbit hole of getting the wrong treatment.

 

What I can say is this: pursue programs that provide value to your firm. Find a program (like health literacy or telehealth etc.) that you believe in and think will make your employees care experience better. Unlike a lot of things, the best care (read “correct” care) you can get is also the cheapest, because you only have to do it once. Anything that brings you closer to getting the correct care should be deeply considered.

 

How to Incentivize your Medical Plan + Control Costs so that you can sleep at night

With all this talk about high deductible health plans and increased consumerism in healthcare, we are often left wondering if it all really works. Can we really do something about the rising care costs? Can we really expect people to shop for healthcare like they shop for cars and other consumer goods?

 

There are a lot of differing opinions on what we can really expect from people. Some are of the mindset that we should just reduce people’s coverage and let them fend for themselves. Others think that we need to provide people with the tools and resources to become successful. Most of these strategies fall under the category of “incentivization”, with varying degrees of being “hands on” from your firm’s perspective.  I’m of the mindset that we should definitely be providing people with some guidance. But more on that later.

 

Let’s take a look at a few ways that you can incentivize your benefits package:

  1. The Hands Off Approach – If you’re hoping to dip your toes into the world of incentivization, but don’t want to add anything to your workload, you should really consider a benefits redesign. Look at implementing an HRA (here’s a guide for that), and consider a high deductible plan. This isn’t the most impactful route, but it’s a start.
  2. The Half-Way-There Approach – If you want to up your game and start to incentivize your benefits in a more active way, think about looking at consumer literacy and training programs. There are a few out there (Trig being one of them) that operate as completely hands off, if you so choose. Where you start to see real change is when you tie HRA or HSA credits to completing some of the training. It’s easy and cost effective from the firm’s perspective and gets employees to learn how to be a consumer (often for the first time).
  3. The Fully Hands On Approach – If you’re set on making impactful change to your benefits plan, simply incentivizing a few training courses isn’t going to be enough. While you should still do it, you will also have to engage with a literacy and training program yourselves. As leadership of your company, you should understand a bit about healthcare literacy so that you can answer questions when your employees walk in the door. They need someone that can show them how to find answers and understand their role in the medical care process. All initiatives need a champion, and if you’re serious about seeing change, you are the best champion that your employees can get.

 

With this in mind, only you can decide how deep your firm wants to go to maximize your benefits. After all, your benefits are the most expensive item behind your payroll, so having some control over the spend is important. The good news is that once people begin to advocate for themselves and learn how to get better care, they will instinctively continue to grow. They just need a little help getting there, and that’s why incentivization is key.

3 Levels of Convenience Care, and Why it Matters

If you’re a follower of our stuff, you may have noticed that we talk about “convenience care” quite a lot. Its something that we believe in and can get pretty fired up about (don’t judge, some people like celebrities, some people like health-tech startups).  Its occurred to me that we should really do an article that focuses more squarely on convenience care and why you should care about it. But before we get to that, lets just look at providing a definition of convenience care so that we can get on the same page.

I’m going to define convenience care as this: Any service designed to offer fast medical care for common ailments, most often delivered at a greatly reduced cost. These are commonly staffed by physician assistants or nurse practitioners and should be relied upon for minor medical situations. Check out a breakdown of the different kinds of services here.

It starts to get a bit more confusing when you consider that there are different types of convenience care clinics that you can attend. Some virtual, some in person. But in order for you to understand the how (and why) these apply to you, let’s look at the different kinds:

  1. Tele-health – This is my personal favorite. My iphone apps mostly consist of music streaming, a good map application and a tele-health service. As with anything, these are going to vary based on your location and benefits provider/plan. But a good tele-health service can be your first line of defense for all things medical. You can often book an appointment in minutes and be video-chatting with someone in less time than it takes to drive to the store. They can also do a lot more than you think, like look at the odd rash or give you a medication refill.
  2. Walk in clinics – This is your best bet if you need something like a flu shot or a test for strep throat. They’re great for getting a more in-depth service than a tele-health call, but not so in depth that you need to go through the hassle of booking and attending a GP appointment.
  3. Urgent Care – ok, this is definitely not what we would normally consider “convenience care” because its certainly a level up in price and wait time (and you’ve got to physically go in and wait just like at the GP’s office). But a lot of people do see this type of doctor when they’re unsure so we’re including it for good measure. An urgent care clinic has a lot more capabilities than a walk-in clinic and can even set bones and help with most non-life-threatening issues. However, there is an increased cost associated with that.

This is just a snapshot of what we call the “levels of care”. It’s really important to understand their differences and what they should be used for. And convenience care is really the first level that should be considered. You wouldn’t want to see a brain surgeon for an allergy question, right? Less dramatically, you wouldn’t go to the emergency room for a cold. You could get treatment, but it would be an extreme hassle and you’d pay extortionate amounts for it. Just the same, helping your family or your employees to understand these levels of care (and what the more affordable options are) is really important for a happy workforce and a healthy insurance plan.

4 Reasons why Your Health Insurance is not the same as Healthcare

Think about your health insurance for a moment. Would you be able to tell me exactly where your insurance ends and your actual healthcare begins? Believe it or not (and you may be a part of this group,) most Americans don’t really understand the difference between healthcare and health insurance. Most people would group them together and assume that it’s all part of one big package. Let’s take a look at why the two can be confusingly intertwined: 

  1. Most National Initiatives Encourage Increased Coverage – We’re looking at you Affordable Care Act. When the healthcare conversation starts, it goes immediately to the amount of covered Americans and the affordability of the coverage.  See what we did there? We aren’t talking about where people get care or how much they pay for care. We’re talking about how much we pay for coverage. Very different. 
  1. Insurance Companies Have Contracts with Providers – This is called your “network” (even PPO) of doctors that you’re able to see on your plan. Sure, they aren’t owned by the provider (mostly), but they do work hand in hand. When thinking of your doctor, you’re forced to think about your insurance. 
  1. 20% of Economic Spending goes to Healthcare – why does this matter? Because what the consumer sees is simply the point of sale, and it happens primarily at 2 intervals: 1 being your bill from your doctor, and 2 being your monthly paycheck deduction for health coverage (interesting take on that here). 
  1. It’s not a True Insurance – Think about the things that you insure for yourself. Your car, your home. These are things that are covered in the unlikely event that they were to be destroyed in a fire. Your health insurance runs the gamut of your care. Each piece of the pie is covered (to some degree), leaving you with more of a payment plan. 

With these thoughts in mind, it’s important to consider that without understanding the degree of separation that happens between health care and health coverage. I’m a huge proponent of turning people into educated healthcare consumers. This means shopping around for your healthcare like you would for any other commodity. In order to do this, especially on a large scale (say, larger than you and your significant other,) you have to make people understand that your healthcare is not your health insurance. 

So if you’re reading this for yourself, just understand that your doctor and your insurance plan aren’t part of the same organization. If you’re reading this because you’re in charge of a company health plan – you should help your employees understand this differentiation. Ask them about their doctor, and who they work with, explain to them that their “network” is an arrangement with your insurance firm, and not a direct company affiliate.

4 Ways to Make Healthcare Less Complicated

Every once in a blue moon I think its interesting to get an outsider’s perspective of things. In this case, let’s talk about our healthcare system. At the moment I’ve got this article in mind. In short, it’s a bit of a comical analysis of a few British people trying to use the American healthcare system. Jokes aside, their biggest concern is how bureaucratic and confusing our system is. And let’s think about that for a minute. I think we’re all aware that getting healthcare can be tricky, but we’re used to it, so we often don’t do anything about it. Our system is confusing and frankly hard to use sometimes. After all there are a lot of players in this game, and we don’t always know who to turn to.

With that in mind, we’re presented with a set of obstacles when we’ve got an employee benefits plan. A few of the things that come to mind: we have to keep costs down this year, make sure costs don’t go up next year, help employees understand their benefits and make sure that they all can afford them.

So that’s the picture I’ve painted. Now let’s look at the more relevant material: What can we do about it? And if you’re so bold, what kinds of things can a benefit solution (an independent company that you hire outside of your health insurance) do for your employees?

  1. Combine everything into one place – I’m going to be very high level here and just look at the big stuff. If you can find a service that brings all of your beneits information into one place, you’re off to a good start. If you can take that one step further and find a product that puts it into one “voice”, you’re doing even better. What do I mean by one voice? I mean that you can find products that house, explain, and allow you to use different benefits on their site. This makes life much easier.
  2. Provide one communications platform – ok so this is a bit trickier,  but its aimed at improving people’s benefits literacy (check out our article on that) so that they have a better idea of what they’re doing when getting care. People can only retain a certain amount of information, and you can communicate each element of your benefits plan in one single voice, your chances of having an impact are improved greatly.
  3. Train people on the most important programs – people get training on almost everything they do. But nobody trains people how to use their benefits. One of the best ways to combat confusion in the healthcare space is to provide some usable training. And the best part- people actually want to learn how to get better care. Finding a benefits program that takes benefits literacy seriously should be at the top of your list.
  4. Give people better solutions – ok so this is a tricky one. One of your biggest goals should be to get better products in front of your people to help them get care easier. Introduce things like telehealth or a second opinion service. Better yet if you can give them a portal to access their benefits in one place. Better solutions drive outcomes. It’s that simple.

Healthcare + Consumer Education – What You Can Do

Here at Trig we’re all about consumer education. That being said, we get a lot of pushback when we talk about things like “education” or “learning”, almost as if this is simply an unnecessary step in the care process (it is a process, you know). It’s as if we are actively taking ourselves out of the equation, and leaving the decisions to the sole discretion of the doctor. Now you may be thinking, “yeah, they went to med school, and I didn’t”. And you’re right, you probably didn’t go to medical school. But you also didn’t go to mechanic school, or get your degree in I.T. (ok, maybe you did), but you still work with those professionals and shop around for price for fixing whatever symptom your computer or car is having. So why not do that with your body?

The answer? Because it’s too complicated. Most people feel overwhelmed and unprepared for working with their doctors and for shopping around. And it’s not their fault, healthcare is confusing. But I’m here to tell you that you can make a difference, and that your role in your care is extremely important. A recent study found that only 13% of Americans admit to shopping for healthcare. That’s pretty bleak, especially considering that 1/3 of Americans insured through their work have high deductible plans (click here for more on that) designed to “introduce” consumerism.

So let’s run with the example of “shopping around” for you healthcare in a similar fashion to shopping for auto repairs. One of the best places to start is on a cost and quality comparison website. Think about Angieslist.com or even Yelp! But for healthcare. A few that we’d recommend are:

  • Healthcare Bluebook – This directory tells you what you should be paying for a given service in your area and where you can find a good price.
  • OkCopay.com – This one is kind of neat. They show you what the prices are for a service, and lets you book online. Nice and seamless.
  • Guroo – Guroo lets you get an overall price analysis for a procedure in your area. This one is set up by the Health Care Cost Institute (a neat non-profit) and actually compares average claims.

I think its pretty safe to say that if you’re doing all of these things you you’re off to a very good start. Now let’s say that you’re not reading this for yourself. Maybe you’re the head of HR and you want to find a few ways to lower your company’s annual healthcare cost. Maybe you’re looking for someone else that (for one reason or another) doesn’t want to do this for themselves. Here are a few more basic tips that you can help give to people to make sure that their costs don’t go running wild.

  • Make sure your doctor is in your network – For those of you that are healthcare veterans or are really analytical, this one may seem really basic. But if you’re if you’ve just been visiting your regular GP for the last 15 years, you may want to look into this before seeing another doctor (like a specialist).
  • Request a cost estimate – Chances are you might not feel like “shopping around”. Simply call your doctor and ask what they charge for the service you’re going in for. If it doesn’t seem right, maybe then you (or whomever your looking for) will want to check out some of the above resources.

How to Plan for Future Cost Increases

I want to pose a question: Why do health insurance premiums go up? Probably a lot of reasons, right? People get more sick, procedures cost more money, medication costs rise… The list goes on. But I want you to consider this fact for a moment – Over the past 13 years salaries have risen at a rate of 43%. Pretty good, right? Now consider that over the same time period, insurance rates have risen 180%. That is a serious chunk of money going towards health insurance premiums. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better (sad face).

The good news is that I’ve got a few ideas on how you can help to prevent future increases. There’s no such thing as a simple fix when it comes to healthcare costs (just look at every American election for the last 25 years), but there are steps that your company can take to help combat some of the real issues.

1.       Increase your deductible

Ok, so this one has been explored before (by me, and by many others). The problem is that most people screw up the implementation. In order to introduce the idea of “consumerism” to healthcare, you need to give people the tools and education to succeed. Simply charging them more doesn’t count, and will probably land a few angry people in your office. What can you do? 2 things – lower your coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs, and read on. We’ll dig further into it.

2.       Fund a savings account

You’ve got to help people pay for that higher deductible right? What better way to do it than to use HRA accounts. You can use HSAs as well, but it’s easier to let your plan costs run wild. When people have a health account to fall back on, they aren’t as worried about going bankrupt. Don’t think that’s an issue? Most people have less than $1,000 to spend on medical expenses. Most high deductible plans (especially for family) are far more expensive than that. Check out more on HSA vs HRA accounts here.

3.       Introduce hardship loans

I know, this one sounds weird. But think about that last statistic mentioned above. Your employees are probably living closer to the edge than you thought. Health insurance is really here for your protection, and you don’t want anybody to go bankrupt. These loans can help people avoid dire circumstances and afford your higher deductible plan. Even if you don’t have a high deductible, this can still be a beneficial option to ease future stresses.

4.       Teach your employees how to shop for care

This is one that we’re big believers in. We’ve got articles o’plenty when it comes to teaching people how to “buy” healthcare. Why? Because healthcare is expensive for a reason. Most people don’t know about the ridiculous amount of wrong procedures given, or that there are “levels” of care (think ER vs. Minute Clinic). Want to learn more about this? Check out our article on cost reduction.