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Most Employees Spend Little Time Choosing Their Health Plan

A new study has found that individuals enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are more engaged than their traditional plan counterparts during open enrollment, spending more time on choosing plans and using employer-provided tools to help them make their choices.

Despite their higher engagement though, overall, 72% of group health plan enrollees spent less than an hour on their plan during last year’s open enrollment, according to the “2023 Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey” by the Employee Benefits Research Institute and Greenwald Research.

Additionally, one in five didn’t spend any time researching or tending to their health plan and were just automatically re-enrolled.

The study’s authors said there are likely a few reasons U.S. workers are not spending a significant amount of time researching health plans during open enrollment, including:

Satisfaction with their plan — The study found that 90% of employees were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their employer’s open enrollment process. As mentioned, 20% of participants auto-renewed, indicating they are likely satisfied with their plan.

More choices — Employees that have more plans to choose from may find the process of comparing and contrasting plans overwhelming.

Too many obligations — Many employees likely want to spend more time researching plans, but everyday work, family, social and community obligations can get in the way.

HDHP enrollees more engaged

HDHP enrollees on most metrics were more involved in plan selection and research during open enrollment than their traditional plan counterparts.

For example, 29% of HDHP enrollees spent more than an hour researching plans during open enrollment, compared to 23% of those enrolled in traditional plans.

HDHP enrollees were also more likely to have three or more choices of health plans than their traditional plan counterparts. In fact, while 29% of HDHP enrollees had a choice of three plans, only 17% of traditional plan enrollees had three choices. Meanwhile, 36% of those in traditional plans had only one choice, compared to 29% of those in HDHPs

They were also more likely to use employer-provided tools to choose a plan:

  • Annual employee benefits guide from employer: 58% of HDHP enrollees used it, compared to 38% of traditional plan enrollees.
  • Employee benefits online portal: 41% HDHP, 29% traditional plan
  • Online research: 23% HDHP, 32% traditional plan.
  • Employer-provided educational videos: 25% HDHP, 24% traditional plan
  • HR/benefits department consultations: 13 HDHP, 14% traditional plan
  • Insurance carrier/provider website: 11% HDHP, 16% traditional plan

One of the driving factors for plan choice among high-deductible health plan recipients was whether the plan covered preventative care for chronic conditions, pre-deductible.

Nearly one-half (45%) reported that pre-deductible coverage of preventive care for chronic conditions affected their decision to select the HDHP to a great extent. Another 25% reported that it impacted their decision to a minor extent.

Additionally, 25% of traditional plan enrollees said they would be extremely or very likely to select an HDHP if it covered preventative care for chronic conditions before they reach their deductible. Another 39% reported being somewhat likely to select an HDHP if such care were covered pre-deductible.

Despite these numbers, the percentage of workers enrolled in HDHPs has ebbed since 2020, when 34% of U.S. workers were enrolled in them. In 2022, 32% were.

The takeaway

With so few employees spending more than an hour researching plans during open enrollment, some of your workers may be choosing the wrong coverage for their life circumstances.

While open enrollment only happens during the last few months of the year, you can still provide educational resources to your staff during the rest of the year to educate them on their plan choices and how to choose the best one for their life situation.

You can also encourage them to use the resources you and we provide them to help make educated decisions about their coverage.


Virtual-First Health Care Plans Flooding the Market

In the continuing quest to reduce health care costs and make care more accessible, a new type of health plan has been taking shape: The virtual-first health plan.

These rapidly evolving plans integrate virtual care delivery models into a comprehensive health plan that encourages enrollees to access virtual care with their doctors before resorting to an in-person visit.

These plans are coming to market as Americans have gotten use to virtual visits with their doctors during the last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual care becomes more common even in traditional health plans.

While the uptake is still quite small — 6% of employers surveyed in 2022 offered these plans — it’s expected to grow quickly over the next few years.

All of the major health insurers in the U.S. have already announced various tie-ups with virtual care providers and tech vendors to improve their telemedicine offerings, and the uptake will continue growing as employers and their workers grow more comfortable with the plans.

A recent survey by Mercer found that, among organizations with 500 or more employees:

  • 52% plan to offer virtual behavioral health care in 2023.
  • 40% plan to offer a virtual primary care physician network or service in 2023.
  • 21% already offer virtual specialty care, like for dermatology, diabetes or musculoskeletal issues.

There are a number of benefits to virtual-first primary care:

  • Easier access — Virtual care is ideal for people with health problems that make it difficult to see their doctor or who do not live near a hospital or doctor’s office.
  • Reduced costs — Telemedicine visits cost less than in-person visits, and they can yield additional savings through technological efficiencies.
  • Convenience — Enrollees don’t have to drive to the doctor’s office, contend with traffic or sit in the waiting room — and they can meet with their doctor from the comfort of their home.
  • Better health outcomes — Virtual first plans will often put a premium on health records integration across the care spectrum to ensure that care team members have access to them, which can help them provide better clinical and administrative support.

How they work

Virtual-first health plans include the same coverage as traditional health plans, including fee-for-service, health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organizations, but they focus on directing enrollees to telemedicine options for their doctor’s visits.

The key difference is that they aim to significantly reduce costs by incentivizing enrollees to seek out virtual care first through plan design, incentives and advocacy. Consultation sessions can often be performed virtually, saving both the patient and doctor time, while reducing the costs for each visit.

Virtual-first plans incorporate the same arrangements as traditional health plans, except that most doctor’s visits will be online, or via a smartphone app. When a patient needs to see their doctor, they’ll schedule the visit on their account — and they’ll need to opt out of a virtual visit if they feel that they need to see the doctor in person.

Additionally, if possible, specialist visits can also be conducted on the app or website.

The takeaway

Virtual-first care plans are an evolving product and it’s important to find a plan that can truly save you money while not sacrificing quality of care.

These plans are still in their infancy and are hitting the market in increasing numbers. But because they are new, there is no uniform standard for them. The most important aspects to look for in these plans are strong member engagement and seamless integration to ensure quality of care.

Give us a call if you’re curious about these plans, to find out if carriers in the area are offering them and, importantly, whether they are a good fit for your organization.


Why Your Staff Needs Short- and Long-Term Disability Coverage

No one plans on becoming disabled and missing work, but it can happen. An illness or an accident could cause one of your employees to be unable to work for months, or even years.

While their health insurance will cover their medical expenses, it won’t cover the cost of living while they recover.

Only 30% of American workers in private industry currently have access to employer-sponsored long-term disability insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That means most workers — and their families — do not have adequate protection against one of the most significant financial risks that they face.

That’s why you should be offering your employees voluntary short-term and long-term disability insurance.

These policies provide income replacement to enable employees who are disabled to pay bills, including mortgages and college expenses, and to maintain an accustomed standard of living.

Disability insurance replaces a percentage of pre-disability income if an employee is unable to work due to illness or injury.

Employers may offer short-term disability coverage, long-term disability coverage, or integrate both short- and long-term coverage. Here’s what they cover:

  • Short-term disability policies: These policies have a waiting period of zero to 14 days, with a maximum benefit period of no longer than two years.
  • Long-term disability policies: These policies have a waiting period of several weeks to several months, with a maximum benefit period ranging from a few years to the rest of your life.

Disability policies have two different protection features that are important to understand:

Non-cancelable – This means the policy cannot be canceled by the insurance company, except for non-payment of premiums. This gives your employees the right to renew the policy every year without an increase in the premium or a reduction in benefits.

Guaranteed renewable – This gives your employees the right to renew the policy with the same benefits and not have the policy canceled by the company. However, the insurer has the right to increase the premiums as long as it does so for all other policyholders in the same rating class as your employee.

Other options

In addition to the traditional disability policies, there are several options that you can also offer as part of the voluntary benefit package:

  • Additional purchase options: The insurer gives your employees the right to buy additional insurance at a later time.
  • Coordination of benefits: The amount of benefits your employees receive from the insurance company is dependent on other benefits they may receive because of their disability. The policy specifies a target amount they will receive from all the policies combined, so this policy will make up the difference not paid by other policies.
  • Cost of living adjustment (COLA): The COLA increases disability benefits over time based on the increased cost of living measured by the Consumer Price Index. Your employees will pay a higher premium if they select the COLA.
  • Residual or partial disability rider: This provision allows your employees to return to work part-time, collect part of their salary and receive a partial disability payment if they are still partially disabled.
  • Return of premium: This provision requires the insurer to refund part of the premium if no claims are made for a specific period of time declared in the policy.
  • Waiver of premium provision: This clause means that your employees do not have to pay premiums on the policy after they are disabled for 90 days.

Centers of Excellence Save Money, but Have More Benefits Too

As health insurance and health care costs continue rising, more employers and health plans are turning to centers of excellence to manage patients with chronic conditions.

Centers of excellence are unique operations that focus on containing costs and delivering quality and coordinated care from diagnoses to treatment and recovery for patients with acute or chronic conditions. These centers will typically offer bundled-payment programs for high-cost procedures in orthopedics, cardiology, oncology and organ transplants.

A study by the Rand Corporation looked at three major surgical procedures and found that centers of excellence with bundled-payment programs reduce the cost of surgeries by more than $16,000 per procedure.

Centers of excellence are available in certain health plans, and employers with workers who have chronic conditions that are costly to treat may be able to control their plan costs better if they chose a plan that has one. Additionally, many self-insured and partially self-insured employers contract directly with these centers to reduce their overall cost outlays and improve their workers’ health outcomes.

The good news is that there are other benefits to centers of excellence besides controlling costs. These include:

Reducing the chances of unnecessary operations — Physicians in centers of excellence will not instinctively opt for surgery for their patients, and may instead refer them to treatment paths that don’t require going under the knife.

Additionally, one study published in the medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatology found that one-third of knee replacement operations were later deemed unnecessary, and an additional 21% were inconclusive.

As well, medications can be just as effective as inserting stents or conducting a bypass operation in many cases, according to research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

There are many benefits to diverting patients to less invasive procedures that are as effective as surgery:

  • The employee benefits from not having to undergo surgery, not having to deal with anxiety and pain after the procedure, as well as lower out-of-pocket costs. They also don’t have to deal with recovery after the fact.
  • The employer and/or health plan saves money by not having to shell out thousands for surgery that could have been avoided.
  • The employer benefits from not having an employee off work recovering from surgery.

Happier employees — If an employee feels like they are getting top-shelf treatment from doctors that are skilled at helping them manage a chronic condition, they’ll be happier.

Additionally, workers are demanding more from their health plans, including improved tools to help them better manage their health.

Centers of excellence also allow patients to skip the processes of comparing different providers and trying to figure out how much they will be paying out of pocket. Since service costs are bundled and preset, they’ll know exactly what they will pay in advance.

Also, they will usually have a single point of contact in the center, from the point of first examination through treatment and recovery. This helps the individual feel like they have an active role in their treatment.

Improved recovery time — Employees who require surgery, if they are kept in the loop about their treatment and feel informed and part of the decision-making, are more likely to recover from their operation sooner and have less complications.

One key aspect of centers of excellence is coordinated care, which is often missing in general health care settings. It starts with initial diagnoses through treatment and recovery. And often the post-operation period will be bundled into the costs of treatment.

In many centers, your employee will receive assistance in scheduling follow-up appointments and any rehab treatment they require. This close coordination involves patients more in their health care journey. That in turn ensures that they can be on a path to recovery or managing a chronic condition.

The takeaway

Due to demand and the success of centers of excellence, more health plans are including them in their networks. While these programs can reduce costs for the plan and employees, they can greatly improve your workers’ health outcomes and ability to recover from surgery.

And if your employees feel like they have a say in their health care while dealing with a chronic condition, they will be more productive and, hopefully, more loyal to your organization.