Insurance News Net: What’s Next After Open Enrollment? Driving Health Literacy
Most employers are in the midst of open enrollment season, and this year workers are more focused than ever on their health and health care. With so much uncertainty – both in the economy and with public health – it’s essential that workers understand how to make cost-effective health care choices. However, low health literacy is holding many workers back from making the optimal health care choices for themselves and their families.
What do we mean by health literacy? For these purposes, we’re talking about an individual’s ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information – and how to have meaningful conversations with health care providers about their health, symptoms and concerns, how to follow instructions for their care, and how to shop for care.
Research shows that low health literacy can affect a patient’s adherence to a treatment regimen (e.g., taking medication), which can decrease its benefits. Patients with low health literacy are also more likely to visit the emergency room, which is one of the most expensive ways to get care. Alternatively, workers who understand how to navigate the system (i.e., receiving regular preventive care, choosing in-network providers, comparing prescription prices, etc.) can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The pandemic aside, with almost half the population affected by chronic disease, this level of engagement is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s essential.
Knowing that health literacy can improve physical and financial wellness – and, ultimately, reduce employer health care costs – employers must help increase their workers’ health literacy levels. Although open enrollment season is the logical opportunity to start this journey with workers, the effort should not end there – employers must educate and support workers all year round.
Leveraging Enrollment Communication Channels All Year
Many employers adopted “virtual” support for this year’s enrollment – adding virtual benefit fairs, beefing up enrollment sites, providing telephonic enrollment support, etc. – to help support their workforce. With social distancing rules and remote work still the “new norm,” employers should consider tweaking and repurposing these channels for year-round use, so workers have a resource for accurate, consistent information about their plans.
Online tools – especially when supplemented by targeted print materials – can push out important information that can help workers understand how their coverage works as they grapple with the impact of:
- Delayed vaccinations and other preventive care.
- Rescheduling postponed elective procedures.
- The short- and long-term side effects of COVID-19 recovery.
- The possibility of potential serious health issues, such as the onset of diabetes and liver, heart and lung problems, due to COVID-19.
- Hospital closings and provider retirements.
Questions Employees Should Ask Before The New Plan Year Begins
Beyond providing year-round educational tools and resources for their workers, employers should help prepare workers for how they will use their health coverage in the year ahead. After open enrollment season concludes, have your workers – via email or a postcard or other home mailing – ask themselves:
- How often do you and your family members go to the doctor and fill prescriptions?
- Do you prepare a list of questions for your doctor before your appointment?
- When was the last time you talked to your doctor about your overall health, and reviewed your list of medications with them? Do you understand why you’re taking the medications you’re taking – and are you sure you’re taking them the right way?
- Do you know when you last had adult vaccines such as Tdap, flu, or MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)? Do you know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers?
- What does the upcoming year look like? Are you and your partner having a child? Do you have an elective procedure scheduled (or rescheduled, if postponed due to the pandemic)? If you had to reschedule a procedure, do you understand the impact on your health?
- Do you have a regular doctor, or do you go to urgent care or a retail clinic when you need to see a doctor or get an immunization? Are you sure your provider is in-network? Are they still in business?
Be sure to provide action steps tied to their responses, so workers can begin to understand how their answers can affect their health and their wallets.
Personalized education for workers can’t end when open enrollment season does. Employers should deliver seamless support for their workers, ensuring that workers can still get their questions answered when they start putting their health plans to use. Employers can work with health care advocates, who provide the same privacy and undivided attention for workers year-round, as they have questions about medical bills, whether a provider is in-network and what is covered under their health plan. Rather than making a costly guess when it comes to their health care, workers can pick up the phone and have an expert inform their decision – saving money and stress.
Because health literacy is a journey, workers deserve guidance each step of the way. Although it may not be feasible for every employer to provide benefit educator services, every employer can take steps to encourage smart, cost-effective decision-making all year round by building on their enrollment communications efforts to keep the momentum going. With so much uncertainty ahead in 2021, that is one annual commitment every employer should feel confident making.
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(Kim Buckey is vice president of client services, DirectPath)