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Getting-Employers-to-Like-Their-High-Deductible-Plans1As we approach another open enrollment, we struggle to find ways for employees to thoughtfully choose the right health plan. And with high-deductible plans being offered to more employees every year, it complicates the process even more.

While plenty of new tools and resources are available in today’s marketplace, employees still struggle with the basics. A flashy tool or even a 1-2 week timeframe to make a decision is not the right answer. Whether a HDHP is being offered for the first time, or it has been in place for several years, most employees don’t understand how it works, and so their frustration continues to mount.

About 1/4 of employees are currently enrolled in a high-deductible plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2015 Employee Health Benefits Survey. And while enrollment is growing, many employees are enrolled in a plan primarily based on the lower premiums. They are not taking advantage of the free preventive care or the tax savings through health savings accounts.

As we move toward a consumer-driven focus, the role of employers continues to change. So we need to teach consumers how to shop for healthcare throughout the year and talk to doctors about costs. It’s not enough to tell them about a tool they can use once a year. A whole new world exists, and many employees feel stuck with a plan they know little about.

Employers who commit to a thoughtful year round communications strategy will start to make strides with employees understanding their plans. The key is to focus on the core elements of HDHPs and how they work with HSAs – including preventive care, how voluntary benefits play into the mix, negotiating with providers, shopping for prescription drugs, and more.

Getting employees to like their high-deductible plan is an uphill battle. However, soliciting feedback from employees through focus groups and surveys will provide some insight as to where the struggles lie. We have the communication and survey tools to help engage our clients’ employees. Just ask us.

Custom CommunicationsA recent MetLife survey found that only 42 percent of employers are very satisfied with the levels of engagement during their annual open enrollment events. And it’s no wonder, with survey results also showing that up to one-third of employees missed the enrollment deadline, failed to participate in the event or simply defaulted to their previous year’s enrollment options.

With benefits satisfaction so closely linked to job satisfaction, it’s critically important that you as an employer take the time to both offer an attractive benefits package and engage employees through the enrollment process. By doing so, you’ll not only improve benefits participation, but you’ll help build and maintain the quality workforce that your company needs to grow and compete.

Here are some important ways you can improve the open enrollment experience at your company.

1. Simplify the Process
If you want employees to take advantage of your benefits package, you need to streamline the enrollment process and provide materials that are straightforward and easy to understand. Another key to engaging employees, is providing enrollment materials that are personalized to address generational differences. According to the MetLife survey, 74 percent of survey respondents said they appreciated personalized materials that spoke to their unique needs and concerns.

2. Get Online
Online enrollment has become a popular request – particularly among those who have grown to appreciate the ease and convenience of online shopping. According to the MetLife survey, almost 50 percent of respondents preferred online enrollment, with employees more likely to engage in the enrollment process if online enrollment was both available and on par with the online shopping experiences they’ve grown used to. Also important are online decision-making tools to help them determine which benefits most clearly reflect their needs.

3. Communicate Cleary, Communicate Often
To keep employees engaged, enrollment materials must be clear, easy to understand and free of insurance jargon. You’ll also want to clearly outline any major policy changes – particularly if they come at an additional cost to your employees. Then, once open enrollment ends, keep the conversation going throughout the year, as there is a direct link between frequency of benefits communications and employee engagement. These materials can take the form of a newsletter, blog or email newsletter campaign and should present information on upcoming issues, such as health care reform.

4. Get Feedback
According to survey results, 42 percent of employees who reported being engaged in their annual open enrollment event were asked to give feedback on both their employer’s benefits plans and the overall enrollment experience. Of those who weren’t asked to give feedback, only 17 percent were engaged in the enrollment process. By talking to employees and asking them for their opinions, you’ll be able to better design an experience that reflects their overall needs and preferences.

With key pieces of the Affordable Care Act taking effect in 2014, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide employees with clear, easy to digest benefits materials. When done correctly, these materials will answer your employees’ questions, dispel any misconceptions and keep them engaged—both during open enrollment season and all year long.