An increase in the offering of consumer-driven health care products has not translated into increased understanding on the part of consumers — exposing a need for more assistance from benefit professionals and educational tools.

Adoption rates for high-deductible health plans, health savings accounts, and health reimbursement accounts continue to rise, yet research shows consumers, even those who have such plans and accounts, don’t fully understand them. Only 30% of HSA account holders passed a basic HSA proficiency quiz as part of a survey for Waltham, Mass.-based Alegeus Technologies’ 2014 Consumer and Employer Healthcare Benefits Survey. With a 50% pass rate on the flexible spending account proficiency quiz, FSA account holders did not score much better.

The results point to a significant consumer education gap and a need for more educational assistance from benefit advisers and other professionals, as well as innovative tools to improve employees’ understanding about their health care plans and choices.

There’s a need to help consumers “understand how these accounts work and how to get the best value out of them,” says Steve Auerbach, CEO of Alegeus.

Benefit advisers, he tells EBA, “are exceptionally well positioned to be that driving force to help employers and the employees get the whole value of these accounts, maximizing and optimizing their tax savings and simplifying the health care process.”

Particularly for HSAs, the survey finds, a lack of understanding of the full account value proposition may actually be hindering adoption of these accounts. More than 40% of consumers still view HSAs as spending accounts, “exhibiting a lack of understanding of the ability to save beyond the plan year or invest HSA funds,” the survey says.

Communication gap

Employers can play a huge role in educating employees about their benefits, but the survey found most employers today offer limited benefit support.

Sixty-five percent of employers communicate about health benefit enrollment only during the open enrollment period, and nearly 60% rely only on plan summary documents and enrollment forms to communicate benefit plan/account options, the report says. Only a third of employers offer interactive tools such as plan comparison calculators.

Auerbach says one interesting finding came in regards to employer perceptions about the quality of their benefit communication and support, noting that employers often think they are doing a better job than their employees perceive they are. In their assessment of the quality of various aspects of employer benefit communications (clarity, depth, format, personalization and frequency), consumer ratings were consistently 20% lower than employer ratings

Benefit advisers can help reduce that communication disconnect, he says, by working with an employer to develop the most effective way to communicate with its unique population of employee consumers.

Consumers also value account features that simplify the health care funding experience, the survey found. More than 65% ranked debit cards and multi-channel (web/mobile) account access as “extremely valuable,” while 60% said they “highly value” self-service features such as the ability to submit claims via mobile devices. Seventy-five percent of consumers said they value integration of benefit accounts and insurance claim data to streamline the process of reviewing and paying 

 

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