employee expectations healthcare

Putting Health Back in Health Care Plans: What Companies Must Do Now

Here’s a bit of irony: When we think of health care we don’t often think of health or wellness; we think of insurance to help us cope with illness and injury. We also think of the process of dealing with those benefits — which on many occasions will include wait times, filling out forms, juggling in-network and out-of-network providers, waiting for claims to be processed, the limitations of coverage and administrative complexity.

In other words, we don’t tend to think of the actual benefits of health, and that’s an enormous problem in the world of work. Forty-nine percent of the U.S. population relies on employee-sponsored health care.

Mike Serbinis, the CEO and founder of League, a digital health platform, says health care is woefully behind when it comes to treating people like consumers. While consumerization has transformed nearly every other market and practice, health care is stuck in a rut of overly complex administration and rising costs. “Employer-sponsored health care is the main lens through which people see and access health, and that system is broken,” Serbinis says. “The future of health insurance is about health, not insurance.”

Serbinis will discuss the need to fill the gap between employee expectations and employer health care offerings in his upcoming talk at SHRM’s annual conference, making a case for a future in which the emphasis is on health itself.

There are real business-boosting reasons to improve benefits: Given every organization’s need to attract and keep all the talent it can in a super-tight talent market, offering better health care may help drive success. You don’t have to be a Netflix, Uber, Unilever, Google or Target to be known as a company that offers great benefits, but firms like this are setting the bar when it comes to employee health care.

Here are four best practices to give employees the health care they want, ease the costs and time of administration, and gain an edge in the competition for great talent.

Improve the Experience

Improving how we offer health care starts with adopting a consumer-centric approach. A frustrating and cumbersome employee experience that’s broken up into different points of entry, with numerous logins and usernames, creates unnecessary friction between employer and employee, turning the concept of benefits on its head. Digital, centralized platforms can streamline navigation, provide a single point of access and offer a range of resources to answer questions faster, providing far more support for employees trying to choose or adjust their health care plans.

According to League, only 40% of Americans are confident in choosing the right plan, and 25% of employees say the current systems are “so difficult that [they] give up and hope for the best.” But while employees may not have high expectations when it comes to finding the right health care plan, they do have clear expectations regarding how they access it: 90% of today’s employees expect a digital experience.

Offer Flexible, Personalized Plans

Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all health plan — which was really a “one size fits none” situation anyway. With a multigenerational workplace that’s more diverse and inclusive than ever before, flexible and customizable health plans are vital. Health and wellness requirements change over time and no two people are alike, but the changing perspectives of employees in general mean that personalization should be a given.

Employers that offer programs that are relevant to employees’ lifestyles and life stages stand out from competitors. Unilever, for instance, created a health benefits program in which employees can custom-build a health and wellness package directly suited to their needs. Having a whole range of plans may also help defray costs: While some employees may need a plan with more extensive coverage, others may opt for a range of wellness benefits and less comprehensive health coverage.

Expand Family Leave and Caregiver Benefits

Family leave is vitally important now — SHRM lists it among the top six benefits trends of 2019. But the concept of who should benefit is radically changing to meet shifting views of family and parental responsibilities. Demographically, baby boomers and members of Generation X may now be starting to take care of their own parents or aging partners, millennials are well into having families and Generation Z is entering the workforce in full force and about to enter its prime family-forming period.

Younger generations in particular judge prospective employers by the scope of their benefits. Companies without paternal leave or baby-bonding leave time may be seen as archaic and less desirable. On the other side of the spectrum, seasoned older workers — the ones whose years of experience with the company makes them highly valued — may consider changing employers when theirs can’t support a life change such as illness or the need to care for aging parents. From gender parenting norms to LGBTQ needs, family leave benefits are overdue for an evolution. Target recently expanded its family leave plans, a strategic benefit that not only meets the needs of its employees but also attracts more applicants and enhances its employer brand.

Encourage Health and Healthy Practices

There’s a growing trend bringing wellness into the workplace, but wellness should be considered an integral part of employer health benefits, not something that takes place outside the health care sphere. Wellness offerings should cover mental, social, physical and financial health; even smaller organizations are finding ways to incorporate programs at relatively low cost.

Survey employees to find out what’s most requested — such as retirement planning, art classes, de-stressing and sleep workshops, boot camps or nutritional coaching. Consider offering mental health and personal days, as Netflix does: Employees are given unlimited time off, and are more engaged and productive knowing the option is there if they need it. The performance-oriented work culture gets a boost from employees who come in refreshed and ready to excel; it also keeps employees from taking too many liberties with the perk.

For health care to function better now and in the future, it must be considered for its tangible value to employees, as opposed to its associated burdens and costs to employers. That means offering a member experience that includes robust plans that offer easy access, relevant choices and personalization. It means working to find consolidated, central solutions rather than countless multiple channels — which create a mind-boggling kind of administrative fatigue.

By removing the complexity and inefficiency from the health care equation, one of the byproducts may be that everyone feels better. With less stress, and less time required to sort out the details of benefits, all parties can be doing something downright beneficial for their own lives — and thereby reduce the health care they need in the first place. Imagine the impact that could have.

This post is sponsored by League.