Happy New Deductible!

With the holidays now over and everyone sufficiently stuffed full of treats (and wine!), we turn our attention to the things we need to do in the new year… including health care. It’s natural to think “I’ll take care of that mammogram, fix that bum knee or finally have that colonoscopy after the holidays.” For some though, the new deductible that comes with the New Year is not so happy. The number of people in the United States with high deductible health plans (HDHP) has grown steadily over the last few years and doesn’t show any signs of slowing. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 25% of workers are enrolled in an HDHP, up from just 4 percent in 2006.

For many, choosing a HDHP when it’s offered makes financial sense. If they don’t believe they’ll need health care frequently or don’t have any upcoming big ticket items (like having a baby), why not pay less in premiums each month? Others don’t have a choice. PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute found that over the next few years, 44% of employers are expected to offer HDHPs as the only option for employees. Those people, particularly those that use their health care benefits frequently, may have real concerns about how to pay for thousands of dollars in health care costs out of pocket. In fact, The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 43% of insured patients said they delayed or skipped physician-recommended tests or treatment because of high associated costs. Not because they don’t have insurance, but because they couldn’t afford it their portion. While that may seem like a good strategy in the short term, the longer-term health consequences – and associated expense- are likely not worth it.

If you are a health plan or employers who offers health care shopping tools, now is the best time to let your members or employees know they are there for them. You may just also end up saving some money in the process on your own health care expenses. Here are my four key tips to effectively communicating your benefits to HDHP members:

  1. Promote the tools now. Let people know they have the ability to shop for their health care. You may be surprised how many people still don’t realize they can. But we all love to save money… especially on boring things like health care. Let them know how your tools can help them keep more of their hard-earned money in their pocket.
  2. Promote your tools the rest of the year. Research shows that monthly promotion yields the greatest awareness and trust. That’s no small task, though, especially if marketing communications isn’t part of your regular job. To make it easier, sit down and think about all the ways you can reach your members or employees– email, newsletter, social media, etc. Plug something in to each month such as a Facebook post, a newsletter article or an email. If you know where you overspend on health care – and I bet you do – use those communications to illustrate how to use the HealthSparq tools to spend less. Imaging is a typical area of high expense. Make one or more of your topics related to comparison-shopping for an MRI or X-Ray. Utilize free resources where you can. For instance, there are several online resources to create free memes, infographics, banners and more to add visual appeal to your communications.
  3. Dovetail with your wellness program. Everyone makes resolutions at the beginning of the year, right? Things such as “I’m going to exercise more”, “lose weight” or “stop smoking”. If you have a wellness program, you may see an uptick after the New Year. Use your wellness program to promote your HealthSparq tools. If you can attach a financial incentive to it, even better!
  4. Educate, educate, educate. Health care literacy is quite low in the United States. Many Americans can’t explain the difference between a deductible and co-pay, when they owe for their health care and when their insurance company does. It’s a safe assumption that not everyone, even those with a HDHP, knows what it means for them. Use articles, definitions, FAQs or even infographics to help them know how to make the most of the health benefits you provide.