Although unintentional, after decades of shielding employees from the true cost of health care, employers gave birth to an employee with a sense of entitlement to health care. Similar to an overprotective parent, employers now struggle with kicking employees out of the employee benefits nest to take responsibility for their own health care.

Enforced decision making from health reform and consumer-directed health plans alone will not make a better health care consumer. Employers need an investment in ongoing employee education, and that is where benefit advisers can help.

Boomerang kids are adult children who return to or never leave their parents' home. They deal with the expensive world as they always have. They let mom and dad pick up the tab.

Some of your clients' employees handle health care in the same way. They do not worry about health care costs because they expect their paternalistic employer will take care of it.

This situation calls for some tough love. Smart parents do not simply cut off the money supply. They educate boomerang kids on household expenses. Employers have taken a similar approach by shifting more cost to workers with increased employee contributions and out-of-pocket costs. However, your clients may fall short in the education arena.

Preaching about the high cost of health care has the same effect on employees as that of a parent lecturing a child. Yes, they need to know the cost, but knowing what to expect and how to manage expenses is a far better education.

Effective health care education creates a partnership between your client and their employees. By sharing health care challenges, your client empowers their employees to make better decisions.

There are three areas of employee health care education where you can assist your clients: Health care costs, health benefits value and health care empowerment.

 

Financial education and value

Health reform is its own kind of consumer education. Similar to a new COBRA participant who discovers true premium costs, the Affordable Care Act may be a wake-up call for certain employees. For your clients whose strategy includes private and public health insurance exchanges, employee education takes center stage to understand choices.

Introducing a consumer-driven health plan is long-term strategy that requires better communication and education. That strategy may include a slow transition to a CDHP.

A National Business Group on Health survey revealed most employers start by offering CDHPs alongside a traditional health plan. However, there is an increasing trend among large employers to offer the CDHP as the only plan option.

If your client has a similar strategy in mind, the time to educate employees is now. Even if your client does not offer a CDHP, education on financial terms and consequences should be a part of every employee's health care education.

A Gallup report estimates actively disengaged employees cost companies more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone. Research also links low health literacy to a higher risk of death, more emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Your clients' wellness programs promote a shared responsibility and accountability for health care. Tap into resources, like your clients' employee assistance programs and wellness vendors, for developing employee health education and engagement. Build incentives into plan designs, such as lower copayments based on activities and outcomes that encourage healthy behavior.

There has also been a shift in the health care industry toward delivering greater value for your clients' hard-earned health benefit dollars. You can help your clients by collaborating with insurers and vendors that offer greater transparency in data reporting.

Educate both clients and their employees on available resources, such as HealthGrades, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the federal government and other sites for health care quality and cost comparisons.

 

Education empowerment

A partnership in health care education furnishes the right tools and information for empowering employees. Dispelling the myth of the $10 cost for health services opens the eyes of employees to expenses. Understanding the true cost prepares employees for changes in health benefits and supports better decision making.

Strategic cost-sharing, individual responsibility and accountability, transforms employees from boomerang kids to educated health care consumers. Engaging employees in their own health is the most powerful tool of all. Engaged employees care about the decisions they make. Total health is their greatest reward.

Through education, engagement and strategic planning you help your clients convert employees' sense of health care entitlement to an appreciation for the value of their company's health benefits. You help create a better health care consumer for better health care management.

Taylor, CWPM, is director of health and productivity at Alliant Insurance Services in Newport Beach, Calif. Reach her at btaylor@alliantinsurance.com.

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