Is health insurance really so difficult to understand? Not according to U.S. consumers. According to recent research conducted by GfK, when it comes to health insurance, only about one in four think decisions about health insurance are extremely or very complicated.

Moreover, 75% think they know as much as or more than their friends and family. Concerning financial matters, this level of confidence is only exceeded by checking and savings accounts.

These findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom that employees are at sea when it comes to health insurance decisions. So what’s the real story?

In large part, consumer reaction appears to be driven by age and level of experience with the health insurance system. Not surprisingly, younger consumers struggle more to understand health insurance offerings. For example, 41% of 18-24 year olds think health insurance decisions are very or extremely complicated, compared with only 23% of seniors above the age 65.

This makes sense. Newcomers to the health insurance market need to learn a new technical language and a set of concepts that Medicare users have likely confronted for years. We see a similar pattern with other services, such as life insurance, home mortgages and investments: the younger and less experienced the consumer, the greater their uncertainty and anxiety about deciding what to purchase.

A human touch
Regardless of age, though, the GfK survey shows that health insurance consumers want a human touch. Employees and other buyers want to know that they can reach someone in person or by phone who will help answer their questions. Then, and only then, will they be open to using seemingly less personal online tools.

To provide the best experience, health plans should offer a mix of online and person-to-person services, limiting the online experience to less than half of the mix. It’s a rare individual who will opt for online service only. And while younger employees are more apt to do so, this group is still only a small minority.

Even when employees are satisfied with the available online tools and never reach out for personal assistance, they want to have the option to do so. Very few, in fact—only one in 10—would select a product if their only options for ‘in-person’ service were through email, chat and text, and this is especially true for people over the age of 50. And more than four in ten health insurance purchasers believe that calling customer service is the fastest way to solve a problem.

Stepping back from health insurance and taking a look at broader service expectations bears out these findings. Regarding financial services more generally, over one third of consumers would be willing to pay more for the service, if it included access to live, in-person customer service.

So while digital tools are great, and an increasingly important part of the service ecosystem, employees still prefer a great customer service experience over a great digital service experience. This holds true even among Millennials, among whom only a small minority would opt for digital over in-person service.

Our conclusion: When it comes to health insurance, a balanced approach that integrates both in-person and online service options is the surest route to greater employee engagement.

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