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VIEWPOINT: 5 Tips to Help Employees Make the Most of Health Benefits

By Michael McGuire

Date:

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many companies in New York state and nationwide to operate differently, presenting new challenges and requiring some to respond to a newly at-home workforce.

Whether employees are working remotely or in-person, this fall’s open-enrollment season for health benefits will likely be different than in the past. In fact, a recent UnitedHealthcare survey (https://newsroom.uhc.com/2020-consumer-survey.html) found that 44 percent of respondents expect to change the health plan they select due to COVID-19, including 16 percent opting for an option with lower out-of-pocket costs and 10 percent selecting more comprehensive coverage. More than one-third (35 percent) of respondents said they expect to spend more time evaluating their benefits this year, and with good reason: The financial and health-care challenges created by COVID-19 may make health-benefit decisions especially important. 

In most cases, the practice of employees gathering in a conference room to review health-plan options has been postponed. Even before COVID-19, technology was reshaping how many employers select and offer health-care benefits to employees, improving access to information and creating a more seamless and interactive health-care experience. To help simplify the health-care experience for employees, support their well-being, and potentially curb costs, here are five tips New York state employers should consider during open enrollment and year-round.

Help improve health-care literacy: According to a UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 78 percent of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet previous research (https://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/learn/Understanding.html) has shown that some people struggle to fully understand common health-care terms and concepts, including plan premium, deductible, and co-insurance. Employers may help improve “health-care literacy” by sharing public resources such as JustPlainClear.com, which provides definitions for thousands of common health-care terms in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Make virtual care a priority: Given that COVID-19 has changed how and where people obtain health-care services, it may be important to offer a health plan that includes coverage for virtual care, ideally including options for telehealth visits with their own doctors and 24/7 access to a national provider network. If fact, the use of virtual-care resources has surged more than 10-fold compared to 2019, enabling some people to connect with a health-care provider via a smartphone, tablet, or personal computer. Telehealth resources are designed to be a more convenient way to visit with a doctor about various health issues, ranging from urgent and routine care, ongoing chronic condition management, behavioral health, and specialty care, such as oral and eye health. 

Leverage big data: Employers now have important access to online resources (https://www.uhc.com/content/dam/uhcdotcom/en/landing/pdf/health-plan-manager-leave-behind.pdf) that may enable managers to analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical, prescription, and specialty claims; demographics; and clinical and well-being information. This may provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored clinical management and employee-engagement programs, which may help improve health outcomes, mitigate expenses, and help employees take charge of their health. 

Encourage employees to move more: Some health plans offer programs for employers that may enable their employees to earn financial incentives, such as gift cards or deductible credits, for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching, lowering cholesterol, going to gyms, or using fitness trackers to monitor daily movement. For instance, employers may be able to provide virtual programs (https://newsroom.uhc.com/experience/real-appeal-Christina.html) that give employees personalized, interactive online weight loss and exercise support, while other initiatives may provide various wearables (https://newsroom.uhc.com/experience/level2-diabetes-program.html) to help with the early detection of COVID-19 and assist people during recovery (if needed).

Bundle benefits: While many people may focus on medical coverage during open enrollment, it may be important that employees avoid overlooking specialty benefits such as vision, dental, hearing, and accident protection. In fact, the recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 84 percent of employees said having access to specialty benefits is “important.” Also, companies that combine medical coverage with specialty benefits through a single health-care company may be able to leverage data to help improve health outcomes, flag gaps in care, drive productivity, and reduce costs. Some “bundle and save” programs enable employers to save up to possibly 4 percent on medical premiums, through administrative efficiencies and proactive clinical interventions. (Note: Savings may differ depending on the employer size, plans chosen, and premiums; the program may not be available in all states or for all employer sizes.)

By considering these tips, employers may help increase employee retention, satisfaction, and build a culture of well-being.          

Michael McGuire is the CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New York.

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