COVID-19 changed the way people work and, consequently, how they communicate. In the weeks following the start of the pandemic, companies raced to find ways to keep their employees working remotely, and in-person connections gave way to emails and Zoom calls.
That’s caused a problem for employers and HR professionals, who are prioritizing employees’ experiences with their benefits programs, according to Artemis Health. There’s a good reason for that. Research from the MIT Sloan School of Management shows that when companies create great experiences for their workers, they have higher levels of customer satisfaction, are more innovative, and even have 25% higher profits.
Alternative Reimbursement: You Can’t Pay Less For Healthcare Unless You Pay Less For Healthcare
Thursday, June 10, 2021, 2:00 PM ET / 11:00 AM ET
The only way to pay LESS for healthcare is to pay LESS for healthcare. This simple statement sounds obvious but is ignored by most employers as reflected in their health benefits. For years, we have depended on the carriers to negotiate the price we pay for healthcare, having a more direct and transparent reimbursement (provider compensation model) is the key to immediately lowering your health benefits cost.
In a post-COVID world, even zero change in employees’ healthcare costs will likely still result in them spending a greater percentage of their income on healthcare. Why? Most household incomes are down so the focus shouldn’t be on maintaining the status quo, but on fighting to reduce overall costs and expenditures.
Thanks to the strictures of COVID-19, employees’ experiences with their benefits programs will be largely digital, but that doesn’t mean they have to be impersonal. Advisors can help employers bolster workers’ attitudes by designing education and outreach programs that center on their needs.
Almost half of an employer’s healthcare spending is consumed by 6% of its employees, according to Mercer data. By being proactive instead of reactive, employers can head off expensive claims and build trust between employees and providers, who are communicating throughout the program year instead of just in times of crisis.
Plans can use health risk assessments and claims analytics to identify the highest risk patients, and design communications and interventions around their needs, according to Marathon Health. Marathon contacted over 260,000 employees through its outreach program between March and August, and estimates that it helped them save on average $2,000 per worker, resulting in $22.5 million in savings for employers.
It’s not enough to give employees a benefit packet during open enrollment and hope they make good healthcare decisions. Most workers don’t even read their benefits materials, and when it comes time to choose a treatment or provider, stressed-out workers tend to focus on the upsides of their decision and ignore the downsides.
More dynamic messaging can help employers connect with members throughout the year, and give them an opportunity to intervene when employers are weighing a decision. For example:
- Text messaging. Outbound text messages have higher open rates — 98% — than email, and a 209% higher response rate than phone, email or even Facebook.
- Company chat platforms. With more workers dispersed in remote offices or at home, chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are replacing quick stops by a colleague’s office. Employers can pin updates, nudges or disclosures where workers will see them.
- Chat bots. For answers to routine questions, chatbots can help members find information quickly and easily, and direct them to their benefits manager for more complex questions.
Today’s workforce is diverse, with as many as five different generations on the payroll, and many companies have explicit diversity and inclusivity mandates. Willis Towers Watson found that those initiatives create a sense of belonging among employees who look around and see that they’re not alone.
Diverse workers have different needs and priorities, so the same messaging won’t work for everyone. Employers are increasingly turning to tech to provide their workers with decision support tools, including at the enrollment phase (78%), when making treatment decisions (65%), and when choosing where to receive care (48%), according to Willis Towers Watson.
Those tools are correlated with better outcomes, too. Half of the best performers identified by Willis Towers Watson offer treatment decision support, compared to just 37% of the high-cost companies. The impact of enrollment decision support was even more significant: 62% of the best performers offered that kind of support, compared to 35% of high-cost firms.
COVID-19 has taught employers painful lessons about their ability to withstand a crisis. Businesses that take those lessons and adapt will be more resilient. By focusing on employees’ experiences, advisors can help their clients design benefits programs that overcome workers’ typical barriers to action and lead to higher member satisfaction, and better company performance.