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More employers than originally predicted have made the transition to consumer-directed health care in an effort to improve their bottom lines.

However, despite the benefits realized from transitioning, employers have discovered that CDH employee benefits can be more difficult to explain to employees, not because the CDH model is overly complex, but because of people’s natural hesitancy to move past the status quo.

Employers that are able to successfully educate employees about the benefits and uses of CDH plans see significantly higher uptake, increased employee satisfaction and greater return on investment.

The financial vehicle that drives CDH, the health savings account, is gaining popularity faster than anyone had expected. The number of employees with HSAs is now more than 1 million, double what is was late last year. However, employers are realizing that simply offering a tax-advantaged way for workers to make health care decisions is not enough without a comprehensive employee education program.

The idea of consumer-oriented health care delivery is appealing to employers and employees alike, but CDH works only if employees can easily navigate through the complicated world of health care. Brokers, consultants, agents and insurance carriers know that customer satisfaction relies on an efficient, informative and seamless transition.

Most employers that currently offer flexible spending accounts have been unable to provide comprehensive health care decision support tools and information for employees. These support tools are crucial if employers want to promote financial responsibility and employee consumerism as they plan their transition to CDH. Technology, tools and communication plans exist today to enable pathways to CDH with flexibility for plan changes as employee ease into the consumer-driven world. With CDH, all employees can start becoming active health care consumers while employers retain leverage over the plan designs and choices.

The following are 5 factors in efforts to ensure a smooth transition to CDH:

== Educational tools and advocacy. Asking employees to take their health care into their own hands requires a trusted advisor for education and support. Key requirements include a comprehensive portal with quality data, accessible through an interactive voice response system, wellness incentives, and a friendly third-party advocate. Employees should have access to a health care advocate who can personally assist them.

== Ease of payment. Employees should have access to their funds with a customized smart payment card that knows which account to draw funds from (e.g. dental from an HRA, medical from an FSA). Technology in this area is changing rapidly. CDH third party administrators have to make major technology investments to provide the highest level of auto-adjudication of claims available.

== Price comparisons. Employees should be able to easily search and compare online for hospital costs, physician fees, and generic and brand prescription prices.

== Carrier-neutral platform. When an employer moves from one carrier to another, their employees’ HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements, flexible spending accounts, and administration platform does not need to change. A carrier-neutral model provides freedom of choice for employers while they still realize network discounts. In the same light, when employees change employers, they should be able to continue to use the same CDH platform.

== Transition time. Many employers want to offer some form of CDH but are not ready to transition to a full replacement HSA. CDH solutions that provide “ramp up” capabilities are crucial as CDH continues to evolve and gain acceptance.

Jamie Spriggs is president and chief operating officer of Connect Your Care, Timonium, Md., a company that helps benefits consultants and benefits brokers administer client companies’ CDH programs. He can be reached at info@connectyourcare.com.