by Ann Mond Johnson, CEO
Consumers are faced with a barrage of healthcare acronyms: HMO, PPO, POS, PCP—and the list goes on. But what about a little S.O.S.—especially for the millions of Americans who have to learn a new and seemingly ubiquitous acronym: HDHP.
Also known as high deductible health plans, HDHPs are touted as an effective solution to an on-going problem plaguing many companies and their employees—namely, rising healthcare costs. And while the HDHP model offers substantial incentives to employers by shifting more financial responsibility to the individual; employees need the proper online healthcare tools to truly reap the benefits of a consumer-driven plan.
A NEW STRATEGY
HDHPs bring an entirely new strategy (and set of acronyms) to the table, especially for consumers who are more familiar with the traditional HMO and PPO options. With HDHPs, individuals must pay a significant amount for healthcare expenses before the plan will cover any benefits. Because HDHPs typically result in higher out-of-pocket costs for consumers, many employers will supplement their HDHP options with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), or Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs)—all of which can provide a financial safety net for those expected and sometimes unexpected healthcare costs.
According to a 2006 Watson Wyatt survey report on consumer-driven healthcare strategies for employers, 20 percent of companies now offer an HDHP, and 33 percent plan to add one in 2007. Those statistics are up from 2005, and will likely increase year after year as healthcare costs continue to rise. But as a growing number of employers implement an HDHP strategy and grant workers control of their healthcare dollars, the more imperative it will be for employees to have access to vital healthcare quality, cost, and health plan data—information that can help them weigh their coverage options more carefully. To fulfill these needs, employers are turning to online healthcare decision tools for support.
THE INTERNET PAVES THE WAY
Through simple Internet technology, online decision tools allow employers to seamlessly deliver easy-to-understand data on physician quality, hospital practices, treatment costs, and health plan options to their employees via a password-protected intranet site. As a result, employers have a unique opportunity to:
· Facilitate organizational cost containment by giving employees access to actionable healthcare information
· Increase employee satisfaction and retention rates by clarifying the costs of specific benefit choices
· Reduce absenteeism by providing employees with comparative research tools and self-service options, so they can take a preemptive approach to their care with prevention information and other online resources
And while the Internet might appear as an unlikely source for important healthcare information, recent reports indicate that a growing number of consumers are relying on the Web to research specific health topics. In fact, in 2006, 80% of online U.S. adults, or 136 million people, will turn to the Internet to read about symptoms, conditions, and diagnoses, according to a recent Harris Poll conducted by telephone between July 5 and 11, 2006.
However, that does not necessarily mean the information consumers aggregate over the Internet is of high quality. To address this issue, employers must insist that the data presented through their online decision tools are:
· Credible and impartial. Information on topics like pharmaceuticals, surgical processes, type of care, and care providers should come from trusted and unbiased sources, such as federal, state, and other industry-respected third-parties (e.g., The Leapfrog Group, NCQA, and health plan claims).
· Easy-to-understand. It is one thing to present a plethora of comprehensive data to employees. It is another to present that same information in a consumer-friendly format that employees can learn from.
· Personalized. Information should be based on factors important to employees and other established criteria, such as geographic location, age, gender, specific medical condition, etc. This gives the user a more accurate and highly-customized online experience.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Healthcare information companies and health plans have begun to create on and off-line information and tools to prepare members for the healthcare stewardship for their families. The focus has really been on aggregating as much good, credible, and reliable data as possible, and let employers present the information in a format that meets their employees' needs.
Earlier this year, a large employer with a high-percentage of hourly workers partnered with an online tool provider to execute a well-managed rollout of a high deductible plan among their employees. They used effective communication techniques and a range of benefit solutions to achieve their organization’s consumer-driven healthcare goals, including an online coverage advisor tool to help employees figure out which healthplan option offered by the employer was best for their family. The tool helped to estimate the care and medication needs for the year and then show how different deductibles and savings plans play out in terms of the employees pocketbook.
Ultimately, the employer beat their goals for open enrollment. They had:
· 65% of their employees used the online tool
· 56% enrolled in a consumer-driven plan (this client refers to their 2 HRA plans and the HSA plan as CDHPs)
· 7% enrolled in an HSA plan
Their communication and education strategy was key in the success.
Today, with high deductible health plans opening a floodgate of new terms and strategies, employees are having a difficult time assessing the risks of consumer-driven options. However, online decision tools that deliver reliable, unbiased, and easy-to-understand data can bridge the communication gap between employers and employees—creating a win-win situation that offers substantial financial savings, and peace of mind, for everyone.
For more information, please visit www.subimo.com
Recognized as a thought leader in consumer-driven healthcare, Ann Mond Johnson co-founded Subimo in 2000 with the vision of helping consumers make better healthcare decisions. Today, with nearly 75 million subscribers, Subimo has emerged as the market leader in decision support for consumers. The company’s mission is to help employers and health plans improve healthcare and reduce costs by providing their members and employees with credible, unbiased information through a variety of robust, interactive online tools.
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