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Mercer

Consumers’ expectations are rising – they seek out novel apps, widgets and services that are intuitive, personalized and technology enabled. The market is responding rapidly to meet those needs. Engagement is still the “secret sauce” and employers who have not successfully cracked the code are also enlisting smart technology in hopes that a personalized end user experience will be the answer. It’s an exciting time as we witness the rise of digital navigators that serve as a personal concierge of sorts, guiding end users through the maze to more efficient and effective health and health care services – check out this Wall Street Journal article for a few examples. While consumers are used to the internet of things monitoring more and more of their personal lives and serving up custom advertisements in their social network feeds, having this type of targeted messaging coming from the employer is still fairly new. Employees must trust that their employer is in it for the right reasons and is looking out for their best interests. Wise employers will take care to be very transparent about confidentiality safeguards with clear communications.

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Here’s a statistic to keep in mind as we head into open enrollment season: 41% of employees spent less than 15 minutes researching their benefit options for 2013. That’s dismaying, considering that Americans typically spend four hours selecting a computer and two hours selecting a TV, both of which cost far less than the $6,000+ most families spend on health insurance in a year – but somehow not terribly surprising. If, like many employers, you’re introducing significant benefit changes for 2015, you might use that statistic in your communications to get employees thinking about how they research their other purchases -- for example, by reading consumer reports and reviews or comparing specifications -- and encourage them to apply similar focus to their benefit options.

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Castlight Health, a pioneer in the area of health care cost transparency, has created an interactive map showing variations in the average cost of four common health care services in cities across the country. While we all know this variation exists, it’s still enlightening to see the difference in the average price of a lipid panel in neighboring cities like Cincinnati ($21) and Dayton ($65). Providing employees with an effective transparency tool is a necessary precursor to implementing reference-based pricing, a tactic that directly addresses extreme variation in pricing (for more on that topic, see my post Reference Pricing Under the ACA). But transparency is also the key to enabling employees to become better health care consumers. In our last survey, nearly two-thirds of large employers said they would have a consumer-directed health plan in plan by 2016. To be more than just a high-deductible health plan, a CDHP needs an effective transparency tool.

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