News 9/29/2021

BenefitsPRO: Health Benefits Literacy Improving—But Big Gaps Remain

At a time when health care benefits are increasingly important in the employer/employee relationship, many workers lack literacy about their benefits, according to a new study.

The report is based on a survey by DirectPath, and it found that while many employees feel they understand the basics of their benefits, there are still big gaps in health benefit literacy, and many workers are not using their employer-provided resources on benefits.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more people paying close attention to health care, but many still lack the knowledge required to make informed choices about their health plan and care,” DirectPath said in a statement.

Getting information from many sources

The survey revealed that only 37% of respondents make use of employer health benefits resources in selecting and using health plans. A slightly smaller number, 34%, said they educate themselves online or through other material, and 24% said they turn to a family member. The survey found that 16% use a third-party resource such as a benefits educator offered by their employer, and 14% said they got their information through a friend, acquaintance, or co-worker.

The use of employer-provided information through digital channels remains small, but the survey suggests these sources can be helpful: only 11% of respondents said their employers used texts to communicate about health benefits, but of those receiving texts, 83% said the information was very or extremely helpful, up 67% from the previous report. Of those receiving information via social media, 88% found that information to be very or extremely helpful.

Other findings flagged by the report: 55% of respondents didn’t know that they can compare treatment or service costs before choosing where to get their care.

And of the 31% of respondents who said they received an inaccurate medical bill in the past three years, 7% did nothing about it. The survey found that 43% of those consumers didn’t believe the error was worth the amount of effort to fix it, and 52% said they didn’t know how to correct the error.

The pandemic affected treatment, including an increase in telemedicine

The survey confirmed what other reports have noted: a big increase in telemedicine took place due to the COVID-19 pandemic—58% of respondents said they used telemedicine services, 36% saying they used telemedicine for the first time.

The survey also showed that many employees delayed or canceled in-person care at some point during the pandemic. The report said about one-quarter of respondents cancelled or postponed health care appointments (24%) or skipped preventive care entirely (23%).

One piece of good news for benefits literacy is that more consumers said they were checking the network status of their providers—50% said they always or often check whether a facility is in-network, up from 36% in a previous study.

The report concluded by noting that there are still many employees who don’t have a good grasp on their benefits options.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic drawing attention to health and health care more than ever before, employees still do not understand what they can do to get the most from their plans and to manage their costs. For something that touches not only consumers’ personal health, but also their financial well-being, most are woefully unprepared to take control,” said Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath. “While this survey shows some progress in employee understanding of how their plans work, too many still don’t grasp why – or how – they should learn to use their plans. Increased one-on-one benefits education and more transparency in the health care industry are critical to ensuring employees are able to choose and use their plans effectively.”

Read the article here.

(Scott Woodbridge is  a freelance journalist specializing in health care, health policy, insurance, and benefits-related topics.)


consumer report on health literacy
2021 Consumer Report: All Eyes on Health Care – But Not Enough on Health Care Literacy Initiatives
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