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Benefits buyer’s remorse: 4 mistakes to avoid

Chris Michalak, Virgin Pulse
Chris Michalak
Chris Michalak is CEO at Virgin Pulse, which helps clients unlock the full value of their healthcare investments to drive better health outcomes. Before joining Virgin Pulse in 2021, he was CEO of Alight Solutions, a leader in benefits, payroll and cloud solutions.

As companies face financial headwinds and continuing employee turnover and hiring challenges, benefits that support total health and wellbeing are increasingly essential for employee engagement, loyalty and retention. However, inflation is causing the cost of healthcare benefits to spike for employers. Mercer’s 2022 Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans showed the average per-employee cost of employer-sponsored health insurance rose by 3.2% last year and could increase by 5.4% in 2023. Furthermore, McKinsey predicts that healthcare payers could face 9%-10% cost increases by 2025 due to inflation. Rising healthcare costs and poor health outcomes are accelerating profitability concerns, as employers, and HR leaders in particular, are increasingly being expected to improve healthcare compliance, close gaps in care and drive down costs.

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Meanwhile, millions of people rely on their employer for healthcare benefits, yet many have trouble understanding and navigating the healthcare system to access the care they and their families need. According to an Accenture survey, more than half (52%) of U.S. consumers report low healthcare system literacy, including 33% who say they have no experience at all.

Despite this challenging environment, investing in healthcare benefits should not be undervalued.

Navigating employee benefits pitfalls

Mercer’s recent report found that employers are increasingly turning to healthcare navigation to connect their employees with high-quality healthcare benefits and manage increased healthcare costs without passing those costs on to employees. As employers look to evolve their benefits solutions, however, they must ensure their offerings are culturally competent, relevant and sensitive to employee needs to have a positive impact on both patient outcomes and the bottom line.

Below, I’ll discuss four mistakes to avoid when investing in healthcare benefits:

1. Not personalizing offerings

Each person’s health journey is unique, so one-size-fits-all benefits do not work. Poor personalization efforts that deliver irrelevant programs, information or experiences and don’t address each individual’s needs will likely make the employee feel overwhelmed in their moment of need and disappointed with their options and company leadership. Employee satisfaction is a critical driver of company performance and a surefire way to keep turnover low: Employees who trust their employer are 260% more motivated and 50% less likely to leave for a new job. Employees want to be viewed as individuals by leadership. Personalized benefit solutions demonstrate to employees that companies are mindful of each employee’s unique needs and are taking action to ensure everyone has access to the resources they need to be successful. It’s essential to ensure benefits packages are personalized to influence, motivate and sustain healthy habits.

2. Relying on solutions that people don’t want to engage with

Not everyone uses their healthcare benefits. While some people require consistent attention for serious medical needs, others rarely, if ever, have regular doctor’s appointments. There is an entire category of people with iatrophobia—fear of doctors—who avoid medical professionals even when they think they need medical care. Healthcare navigation solutions that wait for people to engage will fail. When considering a benefits provider, companies should ensure that their solutions easily fit into people’s daily routines, making them more likely to engage with healthcare offerings. They should also offer options that make employees feel welcome and minimize the risk of triggering symptoms of fear and anxiety.

See also: The ROI of wellbeing: Business case insights from 2,000 HR pros

3. Thinking employees only want digital solutions

There are thousands of innovative digital health solutions that can help improve a person’s overall health and wellbeing, but finding solutions that will best meet individual needs can be challenging. Live guidance and support, alongside digital health options, can direct people toward individualized opportunities. Telehealth is not for everyone: The technology can be confusing and difficult to navigate, certain exams are impossible without an in-person visit and not all health insurance providers are willing to foot the bill for virtual appointments and services. While digital health solutions are convenient for many health needs, they should not be considered a replacement for the human touch aspect of healthcare.

4. Solving only current needs

Employees’ health needs are continually evolving as their lives change. Accordingly, benefits should not be static; they must evolve to meet employees’ needs. For instance, as people age, they require different medications and services than they did 10 or 20 years prior. Seniors often face more significant barriers to care, such as costs, access to medicines and reliable transportation to medical appointments. The World Bank recently released its FIRE framework, which stands for financing, innovation, regulation and evaluation, to offer guidance on comprehensively addressing the needs of aging individuals. Plus, it’s critical to be aware and prepared for medical emergencies, which cause tens of millions of deaths every year. Employers must seek solutions supporting health needs in the short- and long-term and provide adequate preventative and responsive care.

Putting employees first when it comes to benefits

Employers that prioritize employee wellbeing and seek benefits tailored to their workforce will see healthier employees, lower healthcare costs, higher rates of employee retention and productivity, and a stronger, more resilient culture. In the modern workplace, employees already feel distant from friends and co-workers and lack a sense of belonging, so leadership must definitively indicate that they care and want to be supportive. Healthcare benefits must be robust, customizable and easily accessible, with a dedicated and knowledgeable benefits department available to address employee questions and concerns at any time. A healthy workplace fosters happy employees. Employers must avoid the common pitfalls of care that lead to unhappiness and failure in order to best support their people.