Jonathan Borba

Healthcare Spending 2021: Employee Education Key to Controlling Costs

What is navigation assistance? And how will it help employers control healthcare spending in 2021?

While 2020 has thrown human resources (HR) many curveballs, one fact remains constant: Employees need help navigating their benefits.

Poor healthcare consumerism influences the cost of healthcare for employers. It drains employee satisfaction, as well. When they don’t have the help they need to access high-quality, low-cost care, employees feel left out in the cold. Now more than ever, we owe employees our support.

Navigation assistance – guidance through the healthcare benefits maze – is an important way to provide that support. Employers also benefit: Providing the assistance lowers healthcare costs.

Healthcare Spending: The Value of Employee Education

For our recent 2021 State of the Benefits Experience Report, Healthjoy sent a survey to +9,000 HR professionals nationwide. Respondents reported using every imaginable benefits education tool, from benefits booklets to presentations and from healthcare fairs to portal websites. Yet they gave the success of their benefits education strategy an average score of just 3 out of 5.

I’m not surprised. At the moment, it’s almost impossible to judge the success of our education efforts. Plus, we know awareness is just one of the areas we have to consider. Still, indications are that our existing education strategies aren’t hitting the mark.

For example, our survey respondents reported employees didn’t know enough about their full EAP offering. As a result, even at this critical time for mental health, employees are missing out on the support they need. And only because they don’t understand, or can’t navigate, their benefits plan.

Ultimately, we won’t know if our efforts to improve employee education are successful until employees are asked to make tough decisions under pressure. That makes education a really tricky strategy to hang our hats on. To succeed, we must educate employees about the stakes involved with making smart healthcare decisions. We must also show up for them with assistance tools when they’re under pressure.

Navigation Assistance: Taking the Pressure Off HR

It’s clear that a lack of navigation assistance is also leaving HR to drown in employee questions.

Our Benefits Experience survey revealed that HR professionals spend an average of 9 hours per week answering employee questions. In the end, some reported spending 20, 30, or even 40 hours per week on this task alone.

They aren’t spending time on complicated billing questions or coding issues, either. The most common question – asked by nearly four out of 10 – was also the most basic (paraphrasing): “How do I find contact information when I have employee benefits questions and need support.”

In other words, employees had questions about… how to ask questions.

Another 38% ranked “understanding benefits coverage/cost” as the most common employee question.

From the amount of time we see HR spending on employee questions each week, we can clearly discern where their confusion is leading them. So, as we talk about transforming healthcare and benefits, we must focus on tools that quickly and efficiently provide answers.

The good news is we know the answer: A ben admin system with navigation and decision support. We also know this system takes the pressure off of HR; when made available to employees, HR spends far less time answering the most common questions.

Manage Healthcare Spending with Navigation Assistance

As Meghan M. Biro, CEO of TalentCulture, and I discussed in a recent episode of the #WorkTrends podcast, healthcare spending is a really complex issue. Costs in the US were already out of control due to factors like an aging population and the obesity epidemic. Then the pandemic added yet another layer of complexity. Because many employees are not fully using their benefits during the pandemic, healthcare costs might temporarily go down for employers next year. However, those delayed healthcare events will eventually occur – driving costs up again in the very near future.

For instance, by some estimates, 28 million elective surgeries were halted or delayed during the pandemic. These are exactly the types of non-emergent, predictable procedures employees need help navigating. Sure, they may be predictable. But if employees don’t carefully scrutinize every aspect of their scheduled procedures, they can easily lead to thousands in surprising medical bills.

And if the number of elective surgeries is doubled next year?

We’ll need to figure out a system by which employees can choose high-quality, cost-effective facilities and providers. We must put these solutions in place now, before they’re needed and before those elective surgeries are scheduled. That is the only way to save employees money and frustration – and to keep employers from engaging in unnecessary spending.

Managing What’s Within Our Control

When we talk about rising healthcare spending, there are many factors outside our control. Thankfully, provider, procedure, and prescription choice are within our control. So the question becomes: Are we willing to give employees the support they need to make the right decisions?

Our recent survey revealed the answer to this important question: Most employers don’t plan to add this type of navigation assistance to their benefits plans next year. Still, I remain hopeful that top-performing, high-growth companies that genuinely care about their employee’s experience will consider adding this benefit in very near the future.

We have a responsibility to take care of employees during the 364 days outside of open enrollment. Navigation assistance changes the way employees access, and then fully leverage their benefits.

Ultimately, navigation assistance improves the lives of your employees – every day of the year.


This post is sponsored by our friends at Healthjoy.