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When you think about “financial wellness,” does your brain immediately jump to “wellness programs?” Maybe you think it’s an employee benefit that helps employees stay fiscally sound? Perhaps it’s a program to save employees a couple bucks on their gym membership? Those might all be true, but that’s not what we’re talking about. 

Here’s what we’re REALLY getting at: today’s health plans have a direct impact on the financial wellness of the end user – the employee. 

Most of the time, employers are focused on the large ticket health benefits – and understandably so due to the impact on the overall budget of the company. In other words, you’re right there analyzing every detail of the medical plan with your broker, but many times without a clear idea of how all of it will impact the employee.

A new study from JPMorgan Chase tracked the financial habits of American households around the time of a major medical expense. They found that US households, on average, wait until they get an increase in income before paying for a major medical expense. Also, major medical expenses lead to long-term increases in credit-card debt, and lower income and liquid assets.

Consider the gaps employees are facing with today’s health plans: fewer prescriptions covered by insurance, rising co-pays for doctor visits (if they even still exist), growing premiums and deductibles. More than ever before, employees are looking to their employers for tools and benefits to protect their healthcare and financial welfare. Is your broker recommending other tools that could be introduced alongside the medical plan to make it a more efficient and a complete package?

Here are 3 ways consumerism tools can both round out the total health package and contribute to the financial wellness of employees.  

1. Curb rising out-of-pocket costs

In a recent survey, more than 75% of American workers reported their healthcare finances are a source of fear. In the same study, families specifically name the stress of preparing for out-of-pocket costs as their biggest challenge. Providing consumerism tools alongside your health plan allows employees to…

  • avoid expensive doctor appointments and ER visits with other options to access care
  • discover price transparency with advocacy services to compare prices before scheduling a procedure  
  • receive expert independent help with medical bills and claims issues 
  • gain additional saving options with an Rx savings program NOT tied to insurance 

Each of these ideas keep more money in the employee’s bank account, contributing to the overall solid financial picture of their household.

2. Increase access to care without additional cost

What employee wouldn’t prefer to make a phone call and have a personal conversation with a board-certified doctor who can call in a prescription, if medically necessary – versus an expensive and time consuming office visit? What about email visits with specialists for second opinions and burning questions that might turn into longer-term issues if not dealt with?

With the doctors online solution, the mental burden of waiting for specialist advice or a second opinion contributes to the wellness picture. When the illness of an employee or of a loved one takes over, worry and stress set in. The employee can no longer focus. A solution that allows employees to correspond directly and privately with a specialist can get many of their questions answered. The specialists can provide questions for employees to ask their provider, which makes an in-person visit more productive and meaningful. 

Options like telehealth and doctors online save employees both time and money. They’re especially helpful to employees and have a higher utilization rate when they come without a fee to use the services. While the monthly PEPM is higher, it can be worth the cost on many levels.

Let’s face it, for some workers, their time literally equates to money. They can’t afford to miss work for a doctor appointment. As Dr. Bruce Sherman says in a recent Kaiser Health News article, “Individuals are penalized if they leave work to seek care…so they go after hours and their access to care is limited to urgent care centers or emergency departments.”

Workers in the lowest wage category were three times more likely to visit the emergency department than top earners, and more than four times more likely to have avoidable hospital admissions for conditions such as bacterial pneumonia or urinary tract infections. Other options to care provided alongside the health plan save money and protect the health of employees.

The services won’t solve every issue, but they can be a big help in giving employees high-quality, low-cost help and care. 

3. Provide services that help alleviate burdens

Implementing an advocacy program gives employees a tool that REALLY helps them become better consumers. Advocacy offers price transparency, assistance shopping for providers, and bill negotiation. The employee is able to offload the burden of navigating these needs alone to an unbiased third party. This benefits the employer in a couple ways:

1.) Your employees are able to focus on their jobs, knowing their advocate is at work for them

2.) Your HR team isn’t forced to handle stacks of EOBs that are dropped on their desks 

Such tools not only help the mental and financial wellness of your employees but also allow the employer to keep their main asset working – and hopefully healthy and happy.  

As the healthcare industry continues to shift and change, some constants will remain: higher medical costs, increased out-of-pocket costs, higher deductibles, etc. Are you working with an employee benefits professional who can find new solutions that help employees so that they see your benefit program as a true benefit? If not, you should be.

Photo by Alexas_Fotos

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