The Chicago Tribune included a supplement section called “Health Insurance and Benefit – A Changing Landscape” on Sunday March 10th. This special section had numerous stimulating articles but the one that prompted my comments was titled, “Understand and Utilize – making the most of employer sponsored benefits.” This article identifies a key challenge in the changing landscape of employee benefits for health insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance. There is an increasing ability to customize at the employee level with a wide range of options and addendum. The challenge, however, is how to communicate the information so the employee can clearly understand the options in their company-offered packages, and how to structure or choose them. Kevin Seeker, VP Benefits Communication & Administration with Assurant Employee Benefits says, “Surveys show that employees find a poorly designed program that is well explained more valuable than a well-designed program that is hard to understand.” That is mind-boggling in itself, but then add rising healthcare spending from $1110 per person in 1980 to $8042 per person in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employees’ out-of-pocket expenses keep growing as costs increase, making employees want to be more involved.
As healthcare and health insurance options become increasingly complex, opportunities for insurers, employers, and communication service providers to collaborate on designing and implementing improved communication programs are everywhere. According to the article; “Seeker is optimistic about the shift in the insurance market mainly because there are tools available to help consumers understand and utilize their benefits better…” Marketing services providers have the technology to design and deliver powerful multi-media, targeted communication programs in a cost effective way. Insurers must improve the clarity or “Understandability” of the basics first, with Explanation of Benefits, (EOBs) that actually explain, and billing that follows the basic rules of mathematics . However, the trend toward consumerism in insurance and benefits offerings creates increased opportunities for education and relationship building, for example:
- Improved communication of plan coverage and deductibles already part of the Affordable Health Care Requirements for Summary of Benefits and Coverage, (SBC), mandated as of September 2012
- Wellness plan communications
- Special coverage for certain offerings such as pre-natal care
- More understandable documentation of treatment plans and procedures – seems a great potential for applying “Plain English” principles
Collaboration and planning will lead to new partnering opportunities for a long time. The rate of change and pressures on cost should incent all parties to increase efforts to improve communication. Whoever does it first will have a significant competitive advantage and increased consumer loyalty.