As individuals assume a larger share of healthcare costs and responsibility, a new national Harris poll commissioned by healthcare concierge company Accolade reveals that employees are more comfortable buying a home or a car than managing health benefits and care.

Nearly one-third (32%) of insured survey participants reported that they are uncomfortable with their personal knowledge and skills for navigating their medical benefits and the healthcare system. This is higher than the percentage of those who are ill at ease buying a home (25%) and twice as high as those indicating they were uneasy purchasing a car (15%) or technology/electronics (16%).

When results are broken out by age cohort, it turns out that young workers under 30 are having the greatest difficulty finding their way through the healthcare labyrinth. Only 56% say they are comfortable they can do so, compared to 76% of retirees. They also note they have the least positive experience with their healthcare and benefits (38%) and the most challenges in making the best care decisions, including understanding cost, coordinating care, choosing and understanding benefits, and finding a doctor they can relate to.

“Young workers are accustomed to an intuitive, easy to navigate experience and getting instant gratification via their smart phone,” says Robert Cavanaugh, president of field operations at Accolade. “The U.S. healthcare system is difficult for them because they are not used to being thrust into a complex, paper-driven process.”

Working families with an average age of 39 gave the second-lowest positive rating of their overall benefits and healthcare experience (42%). This group says they spend significantly more time dealing with healthcare issues than either younger workers or older workers, perhaps reflecting the added health needs of children and parents or other relatives. Working families say cost of services and medications are the top reason (60%) driving poor healthcare decisions and they also cite competing responsibilities (42%) to a greater degree than other groups.

Employee confusion not only means employers are spending significant amounts on programs that are not delivering optimum value to employees. Cavanaugh says employee productivity is diminished because employees are spending an average of three and a half hours of company time a month dealing with healthcare issues in addition to time spent at home wrestling with the pros and cons of various health plan options.

The top service that 80% of survey participants said would improve their healthcare experience is a single, trusted source to help with all of their healthcare needs such as selecting and using benefits, understanding treatment options, finding providers and coordinating care.

Cavanaugh believes this trust can be developed if call centre representatives try to answer not just the obvious first question, but the context in which it is asked.
“For example, we had a mom call about a prescription refill for her daughter, but when our contact person asked how she was doing, we discovered because she lost a child almost two years ago, she was depressed and had gained 140 pounds. As a result, our representative was able to also refer her to available services to meet her own medical and emotional needs,” Cavanaugh says.

Furthermore, to cut through the noise and ensure employees more effectively engage with their benefit plans, Cavanaugh recommends that employers consider multigenerational needs and priorities when crafting their health benefits strategy. This may include tailoring messaging, highlighting different benefits and using varied imagery that will resonate with each group.

"Companies are spending millions of dollars each year launching programs and solutions to help their employees use healthcare effectively, but this survey shows many individuals are getting lost in the process," says Cavanaugh. “Health benefits executives should be asking if they're really getting the maximum return on these tools and technologies or if they're creating additional problems and complexity for employees at various ages and stages of their career.”

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