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How HR can communicate popular 2019 benefits changes

Three ways companies will aim to curb spending and what it means for employees.

An increasing number of employers are proactively taking steps to curb healthcare spending through plan changes and new benefits. Ahead of open enrollment and 2019 effective dates, we explore three tactics employers are implementing and how human resources can help communicate them to employees:


Proactive decision-making tools

Why employers are adopting them:

More employers are becoming wise to the fact that facility price variation for medical services impacts their plan and what employees pay out-of-pocket. As a result, many are implementing programs that help employers and employees get the best care for a fair price.

What it can mean for employees:

Employees want to make the best decision for themselves and their wallets, they just need a little help. Instead of taking on the burden of shopping for healthcare themselves, these companies are providing a concierge-level service that connects employees to care navigators. This means employees can call before a procedure to learn about pricing options, for help deciphering a confusing bill or to learn more about what’s covered under their plan.

How to communicate this change:

These kinds of changes can feel complicated at first. To help, try to make healthcare spending relatable. Employees are used to comparing costs when buying a car or any other service, it’s important for them to know that these opportunities exist in healthcare too. Many employers find it helpful to use real pricing examples from in-network facilities to show just how much prices can vary in their area.

HR teams should also talk about quality of care. A common misconception is that higher prices mean higher quality care. But the data tells a different story: there is no correlation between higher prices and higher quality, and in many states, higher spending is associated with lower quality.

This type of service has benefits for both companies and their employees. To drive initial engagement, spell out exactly how employees can benefit from using the service. Examples of cost savings, possible cash rewards and quick issue resolution will likely resonate. These types of services often produce great case studies that can be incorporated into communications: peer-to-peer validation and word of mouth can help in driving adoption of new benefits.

Just as with any new benefit, take advantage of your existing communications channels. Work calls-to-action into company newsletters, or add to existing communications that employees are already familiar with. Remember, long-term behavior change takes time. Clear, actionable communication pieces that are readily available and proactively distributed will help; and not just at open enrollment. Including key messages in communication strategies throughout the year will be important to make sure the education of the workforce is an ongoing initiative.


High-deductible health plans (HDHP) with health savings accounts (HSA)

Why employers are adopting them:

HDHPs offer lower premiums with higher deductibles. Employees are required to meet the deductible before the plan pays a designated percentage of covered charges. This approach is thought to not only increase employee awareness about healthcare costs, but also encourage them to shop around for the best value care. According to Benefitfocus, up to 70% of large employers offer a HDHP option.

What it means for employees:

Up to 35% of employees opt for these plans when they are offered, likely influenced by lower premiums. Despite their popularity, it’s important to know how to support employees with an HDHP. As a result of higher deductibles, employees may be more likely to delay or skip necessary care: 27% of Americans say they have put off or postponed getting necessary health care, 23% have skipped a recommended medical test or treatment, and 21% have not filled a prescription due to cost. Employee education and support is essential for a successful program.

HSAs are also paired with HDHPs to offset this monetary concern. An HSA is a tax-advantaged account that allows employees to save tax-free money for use towards deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and certain other medical expenses. Both employer and employee may contribute to HSAs, and employees deduct HSA contributions on tax returns. View the 2019 limitations and additional guidance in a recent compliance update.

How to communicate this change:

Because employees will be responsible for meeting a deductible, ensure employees know basic insurance terms and how this plan design works. Walk them through real-life examples to show how to read EOBs and bills when they arrive. It’s also helpful to arm employees with consumer tools so they can become more involved in their care and see charges applied to their deductible throughout the plan year. Lastly, be sure that your carrier or administrator’s customer service team is able to answer employee questions about your HDHP. Ideally, this should be one easy point of contact who can answer members’ questions, help them to understand their benefits, and become an ally in helping them obtain the highest-value care. View more best practices and considerations for HDHPs here.


Changes in pharmacy benefits or PBMs

Why employers are adopting it:

Fueling the search for more cost-effective options is a consistent increase in pharmacy spending year over year. Many are opting for new PBM agreements that focus on transparency, clear payment models and the ability to receive 100% of rebates.

What it can mean for employees:

A change in PBMs can mean a new formulary. While disruption is usually minimal, some employees may be presented with alternative drug options. These conversations are usually aided by the PBM.

How to communicate the change:

It’s likely that your new PBM and administrator will help walk you and your employees through the process, but there are still some best practices to take note of. As with any change, help employees understand the reason for the change. Many may not realize the pricing discrepancies or savings opportunities that exist with more transparent arrangements.

Give employees ways to get involved. In general, grocery pharmacies, warehouse stores and local pharmacies tend to be fair-priced, while major drug stores tend to charge more for the same drugs.


Access more communication best practices in our 2019 open enrollment guide.


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