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44% of Employees Don’t Know Value of Health Plan Benefits

Employees may not fully understand the value of their health plan benefits because of gaps in benefit education.

Employees lack health plan benefit value knowledge

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- Employers must increase their efforts to educate members about the value of their health plan benefits based on recent findings that only 44 percent of employees fully comprehend their benefits. That is the leading takeaway from research published earlier this week by Lincoln Financial Group.                                                                                                       

Employees had little knowledge about the key benefits in their health plans even though they understood the meaning of general benefit terms. Seventy-two percent of employees had a general understanding of health insurance, but only 23 percent confidently understood critical illness insurance. Twenty-two percent had some comprehension of hospital indemnity benefits.

Employers sponsoring their own health plans for employees, as means to improve business operations, should increase their health plan benefit education and engagement efforts.

The research team found that 87 percent of employees are more likely to purchase benefits if they have a better understanding of what those benefits are.

“Employers have many reasons and goals why they offer their employees benefits,” the research authors wrote. “These range from making the employer more competitive and managing costs, to providing benefits that help employees feel more confident, and in turn, more productive. But those reasons will not be as significant, and the goals will not be reached without more participation and engagement from employees.”

Benefits education should focus on the financial and health stressors employees experience on a regular basis. Employees said that paying their bills, debt, retirement, healthcare expenses, and running out of money are the most pressing financial concerns the research found. Areas of employee health concern included developing a terminal illness, a career-ending disability, risk of a heart attack, and developing a chronic illness.

Understanding these concerns can help employers answer important questions employees regularly about their health plan benefits. Most employees want to know the cost of their health plans including premium amounts, coverage of family members, and the specific benefits needed for their individual or family healthcare needs.

The data suggests that employers can effectively address the information gaps that employees have about their potential health plan benefits. Forty-six percent of employees said that a simple enrollment process that provides definitions on the benefits is a desirable health plan engagement feature. Another 43 percent of employees said they would value having an advisor that guides them through their possible benefit choices. Thirty-eight percent of employees would like access to generalized information about their benefits online. Thirty-one percent of employees see the value in having personally tailored or customized health plan benefits.

Employers can further improve health plan benefits value by opening a higher number of benefits communication channels including phone, online connectivity, and email. Seventy-two percent of employees with access three or more benefits communication channels said they were very satisfied with their benefits. Another 74 percent of employees with three-plus benefit communication channels said they were very likely to recommend their place of employment to a friend or relative. Comparatively, 43 percent of employees with three or fewer communication outlets reported high satisfaction rates with their health plans.

Payers and employers sponsoring health plans should open more communication channels and provide educational assistance to improve consumer confidence in their health plan offerings. The future of improving health plan benefit value will likely come down to the level of plan engagement employers provide to their employees.

“The days of companies making all the decisions and providing 100 percent of the benefits for their employees are long gone,” the team concluded. “It’s abundantly clear— employees want and need help making better decisions about their benefits. These days, they simply can’t do it alone.”

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