Having met my health insurance deductible after knee surgery in September 2012, I enjoyed a couple of months of lower copays on my physical therapy rehab. But, having a consumer-driven health plan, I knew this would change come 1/1. Because my payments were automatically deducted from my credit card each visit, I asked the PT staff in December to let me know how much the new plan year increase would be, so I could plan accordingly. Unfortunately, I forgot to follow up.
I paid the price (literally) when my credit card statement at the end of January revealed a nearly 600% increase in copay cost. My first thought was, "I wish I had a benefit adviser to help me take care of this!"
Beyond that, though, the situation served as a financially painful reminder of how crucially important benefits communication is to plan participants. Perhaps an end-of-year refresher from my HR department about how our CDHP works would have given me that reminder nudge I needed.
Now, I know what a CDHP entails, and my mistake was more about forgetting to follow up than not understanding that my copay would change. In the end, I only have myself to blame for not double-checking with the PT staff. But, there are millions of Americans to whom the terms copay and deductible remain foreign concepts.
Our cover subject, Carl Dickerson, certainly understands this imperative ("Ties that bind," p. 30). To meet the communication needs of their Los Angeles community, the staff at Dickerson Employee Benefits speaks 10 different languages.
However, according to Benz Communications' recent Inside Benefits Communication survey, just 29% of employers communicate with employees about their benefits year round - in any language. This is woefully inadequate.
Proper benefits communication must be a constant endeavor. Not only will such an effort be beneficial to both plan sponsors and participants by increasing plan understanding, satisfaction and effective utilization, but as the march from commission to fee-based compensation continues, it will also help to cement the value of the benefit adviser who leads it.
As columnist Jack Kwicien points out in reference to year-round benefits communication programs and other HR-focused services ("Morphing your business model," p. 24): "You already are at the table handling a portion of their needs. Shouldn't you be morphing your offerings to address your clients' changing needs? If you don't, someone else will. Your clients need a trusted adviser, and you can fulfill that role."
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