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Educating Employees about CDHPs

For employees to want to transition to consumer-driven health plans, their companies must make sure they understand how the plans work and fund their health-savings accounts to the maximum level. Employers should also provide workers with the tools they need to become good healthcare consumers.

This article accompanies Choosing Wisely.

Sunday, May 1, 2011
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Now that health-savings accounts are being used by more than 14 million consumers, the mainstream press has finally started taking notice of consumer-driven health plans. And with that increased media attention, consumers are paying attention and are beginning to select HSAs over current, traditional health-benefit plans.

But for employers -- from whom the majority of Americans receive health benefits -- there are some clear best practices that can be used when introducing, or seeking to increase participation in, CDHPs.

Education and concise, clear examples drive acceptance of consumer-driven health-plan benefits.

Because HSAs are a fairly new tool, many employers find it a challenge to convince rank-and-file employees to make the switch to a consumer-driven plan.

A rigorous education plan is the key to success. Workers are used to having employers give them defined choices. Employers must clearly define the features of an HSA as well as flexible-spending accounts and health-reimbursement accounts.

Insurers and financial institutions that administer HSAs find that presenting examples to employees about the ways HSAs differ from their current fixed co-pay and deductible plan is a best practice in the education process.

Employer financial contributions increase adoption and satisfaction of CDHPs.

One fact that has become clear is that the financial participation of the employer is directly linked to both HSA adoption and satisfaction.

Employers that contribute the maximum amount allowed under current Treasury Department rules ($2,650 for individuals and $5,250 for families ** See correction below **) naturally find an increased selection rate. The lesson for employers is that they must fund the accounts to the maximum limits to make the transition to a consumer-driven plan a seamless process for the employee.

Provider-price comparison and disclosure tools should be readily available.

The marketplace for consumers to get pricing data about providers is one that is emerging under healthcare reform.

As consumers have more of a vested interest in spending healthcare dollars that they now own or contribute themselves, more insurers, financial intermediaries and third-party administrators have begun a rapid move to make provider prices readily available to healthcare consumers.

Proving online provider-price research tools to employees is becoming a standard best practice.

The nation's largest private purchaser of healthcare, General Motors, provides online provider-price data to its workforce. "We believe consumers should know as much about the medical care they receive as they do about the vehicles they purchase," a GM spokeswoman states.

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Currently, provider-price data remains scarce, but as employees begin to adopt the use of CDHPs, many industry observers believe that price data will become the standard, rather than the exception.

Thus, employers should make available price comparison and provider-price disclosure tools to employees -- either directly or via the health plans and even providers themselves.

For more in-depth information, the American Research & Policy Institute and the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management are sponsoring the 2011 Healthcare Payments & Policy Conference from June 28 to 29 in Washington, which will discuss best practices as well as innovations in healthcare finance relevant to employers of all sizes.

David Randall, Ph.D., is executive director of the Consumer Driven Healthcare Institute, which publishes the CDHC Market Data Advisory. The Consumer Driven Healthcare Institute and its member organizations are committed to not only providing quality education and forums, but also in researching and establishing best-practice guidelines for the industry.

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