The HSA engagement alphabet

The author says HSA holders need a lot more than an annual enrollment meeting. The author says HSA holders need a lot more than an annual enrollment meeting.

Though consumers have been empowered with greater financial control through the consumer-directed health care movement, many have not fully taken charge of their health care savings and payment options.

As the financial onus shifts, consumers increasingly expect that their health plan providers and employers will ease the transition by providing in-depth health care education, tools and resources. Yet health care savings accounts (HSAs) continue to represent an area of major disconnect between plan providers, employers and consumers.

What has changed?

There is an acceleration toward consumer-directed plans and a push into private exchanges. This is driving increased adoption of high-deductible plans and HSAs. According to the latest HSA census report from America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), almost 17.4 million Americans are enrolled in HSA-eligible health plans. In fact, Towers Watson’s 2015 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey found that almost half (49 percent) of employers will offer or consider offering an account-based health plan as their only health plan by 2018. At the individual level, consumers are starting to understand that these plans are actually low-premium plans and a good way to cap their own out-of-pocket financial risk.

While HSAs have been around for more than a decade and adoption is on the rise, many consumers remain uncertain about when and how to use them. Consumers need more education – arguably in the form of continuous engagement – to properly manage health care spending while benefiting from tax advantages and planning for retirement health care needs.

Based on basic HSA calculators, saving $1,000 per year for 20 years in an HSA and using other funds for any short-term health needs could give consumers more than $8,000 in tax savings and a healthy $26,870 to cover future retirement medical costs. The health care industry as a whole must step up to educate consumers about new health care account options with a special focus on HSAs.

How can you improve the proper use of HSA funds through effective engagement? It's as simple as A, B, C  –  and D.

A. Avoid the enrollment education trap.

Open enrollment happens every fall, but is by no means the only time that education is needed. Better decision support tools are starting to help consumers think through the best plan option for their own needs during the enrollment process – and more consumers are opting into HSA-style plans when they can see that full picture.

It is a given that employers and benefits consultants need to focus on helping consumers make smarter plan decisions during the enrollment period, but true engagement extends far beyond plan selection.

B. Bring in best practices from other industries.

The consumer spending experience needs to follow a natural flow, so the health care industry needs to draw from what has worked in retail and financial environments. There is a viable opportunity to use advanced analytics and consumer behavior trends to help drive smarter consumer behavior – even in the health care industry.

See also: 3 paths to health product selection wisdom

Looking at claim flow and past purchases, for instance, we should be able send mobile/text alerts to consumers when there is a better local option to fill their next prescription. We should also be able to give them direction as to what it will mean ten years from now if they tap their HSA to cover the associated out-of-pocket prescription costs. HSAs need to be viewed as another spending class, and consumers need to understand how to use them as part of their long-term retirement savings picture.

C. Change the engagement approach.

Health plans and employers need to change how they approach engagement.

In health care, change is inevitable so organizations must be prepared to proactively guide consumers through times of tremendous transition. This means alerting consumers to plan options and offerings, providing competitive report cards based on peers who have gone through similar life-changing events, and consistently providing relevant, educational resources along every step of the health care journey.

The ideal consumer engagement scenario must be rooted in timely, fact-based decision-making tools. However, that can ultimately come from a robust exchange experience or a stand-alone offering.

D. Deliver an integrated experience.

As the complex web of insurance policies, bank accounts and technology platforms converge, consumers need more prescriptive guidance to make the right decisions and manage their health care needs. The industry can help create the next generation of the health care consumer experience to provide critical counsel and support when the consumer needs it most.

Health plans and employers must focus on delivering a fully integrated, consumer brand experience leveraging industry-wide data to collectively deliver value for consumers.

Education cannot be a once-and-done activity or a quick item to check off the list every year during the enrollment period, especially as consumers shoulder more financial responsibility.

See also: How to use participants’ inertia for retirement success

Continuous engagement will help consumers truly understand the financial impact of their health care decisions and pave the way to better consumer lifestyle choices. Using other industries to understand effective consumer engagement approaches will help the health care community make sure it has the right model in place. The result will be better education, an improved consumer experience and, ultimately, healthier consumers.

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