High-Deductible Health Care Plans - Wellness Engagement

Are High-Deductible Health Plans Doing Their Job?

When you make big changes, you expect big results.

For instance, I recently decided to stop eating dessert after dinner (most of the time). As a lifelong fan of all things sweet, this was a significant shift for me. So I'm counting on big results -- a healthier heart and slimmer waistline -- to make the big change worthwhile.

One of the biggest changes we've seen in the employee benefits world has been the shift towards consumer-driven health care, largely in the form of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

Currently, according to Benefitfocus' State of Employee Benefits research, 60 percent of large employers offer at least one HDHP, with the average plan carrying a deductible of over $2,000 for individual coverage and nearly $4,500 for family coverage.  

That's a far cry from a decade ago, when only 55 percent of health plans even had a deductible to begin with.1 

HDHPs are a shock to the system, requiring people to reconsider how they've always consumed health care. And that's the point.

Ultimately, HDHPs are meant to make people healthier and lower costs by putting them more on the hook financially. The thought being that, if people have to pay more when they use health care, they'll be incentivized to take better care of themselves so they don't have to use health care as much. And when they do use health care, they'll be more likely to evaluate cost and quality, and shop around for the best "deals."

That's the theory, at least.

So how well have HDHPs actually worked in practice? Has the big change gotten big results?

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), the answer is largely yes.  

EBRI's recent Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey2 reveals, among other findings, that HDHP subscribers are exhibiting behavioral differences in three key areas:

1. Health Care Cost-Consciousness

Compared to people enrolled in traditional health plans (PPO, HMO, POS, etc.), EBRI's survey indicates that those enrolled in HDHPs are more likely to engage in cost-conscious behavior, such as:

  • Asking for a generic drug instead of a brand name drug (52% HDHP vs. 37% traditional)
  • Talking to their doctor about treatment options and costs (43% vs. 32%)
  • Developing a budget to manage health care expenses (28% vs. 22%)

If your company currently offers HDHPs, or is considering offering HDHPs, these numbers should be very encouraging. But there's still plenty of room for improvement.

While HDHPs have been around for a while now, they may still feel relatively new to many of your employees who are used to the all-you-can-eat-buffet style of health care consumption that was the norm for so long. So some hand holding may be in order.

But it doesn't have to be a huge undertaking on your part. Marketing-inspired benefits communication tools can make it easy for you to target your HDHP subscribers before the start of the plan year with information on how they can most cost-effectively use their HDHP coverage.

That includes not only encouraging the behaviors mentioned above, but also educating employees on the value a health savings account (HSA) can provide in managing health care expenses and minimizing financial stress under an HDHP.

For more on how you can help employees maintain financial wellness, check out this free on-demand webcast!

2. Wellness Program Participation

In addition to exhibiting more cost-conscious health care behavior than their traditional-plan peers, HDHP subscribers also report higher participation rates in wellness programs offered by their employer. These include:

  • Health risk assessments (75% HDHP vs. 65% traditional)
  • Health promotion programs (66% vs. 48%)
  • Biometric screenings (83% vs. 64%)

This is exactly the kind of thing you want to see from your employees with HDHPs. They're trying to get healthier and limit their risk of needing extensive health care.

But as you may know, the true effectiveness of wellness programs remains a mystery for many employers. That's often simply because they lack the health care data transparency necessary to track the impact of these programs on their claims.

With benefits data analytics tools that enable you to drill into your employee population's key health indicators and compare against benchmark data, you can hold your wellness vendors accountable and make sure your wellness programs are actually helping to keep employees out of the hospital.

Learn more about harnessing the power of your benefits data to manage wellness ROI and drive population health in this free on-demand webcast!

3. Engagement with Online Health Care Tools

Finally, it seems that people in consumer-driven health plans are especially drawn to online portals where they can view information related to their health care.

Throughout the plan year, HDHP subscribers were more likely than non-HDHP subscribers to pay three or more visits to their:

  • Primary care provider's health care portal (47% HDHP vs. 39% traditional)
  • Employer's online benefits portal (46% vs. 31%)
  • Health plan's online portal (56% vs. 34%)

With higher stakes on their health care decisions, your HDHP-subscribed employees need access to tools that can help them make the best decisions possible. That's why they're visiting your online benefits portal.

But in order to maximize the effectiveness of those visits, you've got to make sure your portal is easy to use, up to date and personalized to your employees' needs.

User-focused technology that's easily branded and customized can help you give your employees a convenient, familiar and engaging experience where they can find precisely what they need, when they need it -- so they can more confidently navigate the world of consumer-driven health care.

Want to learn more about tools that can help you drive better health care decisions for your employees? Get your free copy of the 2017 Buyer's Guide to Effective Benefits Management Technology. Click here to download now!


1Kaiser Family Foundation: 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey

22016 EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey