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The 5 Tips For Helping Your Employees Become Smarter Health Care Consumers…That Every HR Team Should Share

Mark Rader Benefits Communication

einstein-hdhp-copyCome January, this fall’s open enrollment will be over, and your employees who switched over to a new plan (maybe a HDHP with HSA?) are going to be faced with actually using that shiny new plan to get actual health care for themselves and their families.

Right now, you’re probably on the verge of OE, and not really thinking about next year. Totally get that. HOWEVER! We’d argue that it really is worth spending just a few hours NOW thinking about the helpful stuff you could be making available to those employees at the very beginning of the year to nip some of their confusion in the bud. Why now? One: Your future self will thank you. And two: if you look into this stuff before the new year, you’ll be able to buy any potential tools you’d want to share…with this year’s leftover budget. #SmartHR.

So: what are a few ways you could help your employees become masters of their new plans…and make them happier with those plans in the process? Here are five things you should consider creating and planning for right now.

1. Remind them of the plan basics with a simple FAQ sheet

In the months after they sign up for a plan in the fall, many employees suffer what benefits-doctors like to call “benefits amnesia.” Maybe they picked a new plan because that’s the only one their company now offers. Maybe they thoughtfully picked a new plan because a tool like ALEX showed them the value of it. Regardless of how informed they were back then, most of your workforce is going to need a refresher even after a few weeks have passed.

You could simply re-send the information you provided in their benefits guides. Due diligence, done. But what will be even more helpful to your employees is a FAQ page that reflects the real-life questions they’re likely to have–and provides clear, conversational answers to those questions. Think about how you’d answer questions to your employees about this stuff if they stopped by your office. Then write that up in the form of those FAQs.

2. Prepare them for first-time sticker shock in January…and when they get their insurance cards

Know when your employees are most likely to freak out about the way their new high-deductible plan works? The exact moment they’re at the pharmacy or their doctor’s office for the first time and suddenly that $20 co-pay they’re used has transformed into a $150 bill they need to pay up front.

So it’s wise to get ahead of that problem, and directly remind employees in those new plans not to freak out. Something like: “Though it’ll seem like you’re paying way more, at first, don’t panic. Don’t forget that you’re saving money on premiums, and that that HSA you signed up for is going to cover the front-loaded cost of stuff in time.”

Do this as a general message in January. Then do it again a few days after everyone’s plan materials arrive in the mail. We’re more likely to absorb information at the moment we actually need it.

3. In fact, consider creating unique “first time” scenarios to make it crystal clear what to do and not do

The most stressful visit to the pharmacy or doctor is the first one…even if you do know, generally, how your new plan works. The old habits don’t apply anymore. The game has changed. So why not demonstrate that you totally get how it’s going to feel for them…and walk them through ‘their first time’ step-by-step in advance, via an entertaining email or handout.

Specifically, try organizing your advice by situation–for example, ‘Your First Trip to the Drug Store with a New HDHP’ or ‘Your First Trip to the Doctor with a New HDHP.’ Then, for each, lay out the exact actions they should take to complete their healthcare transaction like a pro, calling out where new plan-holders often feel confused or anxious and why they shouldn’t be. Or, even better, simply download our free, editable “My First Time” handout templates.

4. Share a sample EOB form, and call out what’s what

EOBs are, to most employees, confusion incarnate. It looks like a bill, but it’s not a bill. And what you’re supposed to do with it, even if you do understand it, isn’t clear either. Do you file? Fold it into a paper airplane? Throw it away? And when an employee with a new HDHP gets her first EOB, there’s also going to be more of that sticker shock we’ve already talked about.

So what’s a helpful HR team to do?

Well, consider asking someone at your company with some Photoshop skills to annotate a sample EOB from your company’s health care provider. We’re talking, simply, arrows pointing to the fields people need to care about with some text tagging what it is, and whether you need to worry about it. Once this is created, share it with your employees, so they very clearly can see what means what, and have one less thing to stress out about.

If that sounds like too much work, you can also share this helpful breakdown of a sample EOB, to give them the gist.

5. Provide practical advice on cost-saving measures like generic meds, Urgent Care Centers, and more

And last but definitely not least…

Employees used to HMOs and PPOs haven’t had to be in “savvy health care consumer mode” because there was no reason to be. So when those employees switch to a HDHP, there’s a bunch of cost-saving tips they’re not aware of unless someone in the know (cough: your team) shares those tips with them. The difference between someone knowing these tips and not knowing these tips can mean huge cost savings…and time savings.

So make a point to tell them how and where to shop for the best price on medication in your area, what to think about generic meds, when they should go to an urgent care center instead of the ER (and why it saves them time and money)…and all the other stuff a veteran HDHP-haver should know. If you’d like to do that, but aren’t sure exactly what tips to offer, or how to engage them about this stuff, consider looking into an explainer tool like ALEX: Making the Most of Your Plan,  a collection of short, entertaining, interactive tips that explains a wide range of practical health care consumer tips in the most entertaining and personalized way possible.


Like this post, but really more in the market for Open Enrollment Communication stuff? Never fear—we have a ton to share, for free!

The ALEX Open Enrollment Communication Help Desk (a true treasure trove of links to webinars, eBooks, blog posts, videos and more)

7 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Get the Word Out This Open Enrollment

7 Super-Simple Ways to Improve Your Open Enrollment Emails (Writing Tips for Non-Writers)

The Ultimate Open Enrollment Communication Playbook