BHCG Monitor: Focus on Health Care Benefits
 
 

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Increasing Awareness and Usage of Transparency Tools – What Can Be Done?

Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) continue to be one of the most popular health care cost containment strategies utilized by employers today. The idea of utilizing CDHPs to help change employee behavior by making them better health care consumers holds considerable appeal and promise.

However popular CDHPs are with employers, their promise of making a sustainable impact on an employer’s health care benefits costs is likely to be unrealized unless employers fully support employees with the information necessary to make sound purchasing decisions. 

CDHPs & transparency tools – ever more popular

A recent survey by Mercer reveals the gaining popularity of CDHPs among employers:

  • The percentage of employees covered by CDHPs has doubled in the past four years
  • In 2014, nearly half of all large employers offered a CDHP, and almost a quarter of employees had enrolled in them
  • By 2017, 66 percent of large employers anticipate offering a CDHP

While employers are asking employees to accept a higher level of financial responsibility, it is incumbent on them to provide the transparency tools that will allow employees to compare the quality and price performance of health care providers. The Mercer survey suggests that large employers are doing just that – with three quarters making this information available on the web, telephonically or via mobile apps.

Now the bad news…

Despite the availability of transparency tools, their usage by consumers continues to disappoint. The April 2015 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows consumers are not using available information to make health care purchasing decisions. Overall, 31 percent of consumers report seeing information comparing hospitals, doctors and health plans in the past 12 months. However, when asked more specifically whether they had seen quality and price information comparing providers and health plans, less than one in five said they had.

Still fewer reported using the information to make health care purchasing decisions. For example, only four percent used hospital quality information and six percent used physician quality information. Price information was used even less frequently, with two percent using hospital information and three percent using physician information.

Why the low utilization of transparency tools? One answer may be how they are perceived by consumers. According to the same Kaiser Health Tracking poll, 64 percent of respondents reported it is either very difficult or somewhat difficult to find information about how much medical procedures and treatments provided by hospitals or physicians would cost.

In addition to the perceived difficulty in finding the information, there is the problem of availability of the information. According to Rick Wald, director and national practice leader for Deloitte’s Employer Healthcare Consulting division, “There's not a lot of price data out there for employers to use. Employers would love to have better transparency data [but they want to] marry price transparency with quality data. They want to recommend that people go to the lowest-cost option for a comparable quality outcome. It's not just price; it’s about price and quality.”

Increasing consumer usage of transparency tools

There are things employers can do now to increase their existing tools’ usage. These include:

  • Lowering the employee’s cost sharing amount if they seek care from a highly ranked provider on cost and quality measures. This will drive employees to use the available tools.
  • Don’t fear over communicating. Employees tend not to pay attention to the tools until they have a health event and that it is a difficult time to learn something new. Communicate the availability of the information and how to access and use it throughout the year – you’ll have a better chance of providing the education closer to the time the employee needs the information.
  • Offer webinars demonstrating how to use the tools. Make the webinars available on your organization’s intranet so employees can view them when they need to.
  • Offer incentives for using the tools. For example, all employees accessing the tools in a particular month are entered in a drawing to win an iPad.
  • Make sure to involve the spouses of your employees by mailing information home or conducting informational sessions they can attend.
  • Share testimonials from employees (or spouses) conveying the successful use of the tools and the money saved.

Employers should also insist health plans provide information that is easily accessible, understandable and actionable. Further, employers should pressure health plans to provide more quality and pricing information – including information on more providers, treatments and procedures.

Summary

As one presenter told attendees at the spring forum of the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition, “Just because you put a consumer-driven health plan in place for your employees, doesn’t mean you’ve created health care consumers.” Employers must be prepared to support employees by proving them with information they can use to make informed health care purchasing decisions. Transparency tools can play an important role in this educational effort, but only if employees routinely use them.

 

Bibliography

Watts, Tracy. "Opportunity to Improve Transparency Tool Usage." Mercer/Signal, May 8, 2015.

DiJulio, Bianca; Firth, Jamie and Brodie, Mollyann. "Personal Health Care Experiences and Perceptions." Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, April 2015 2014.

Ciccarelli, Maura. "The Challenges of Healthcare-Cost Transparency." Human Resource Executive Online, May 21, 2015

Minnigerode, Beth. "Six Tips To Boost Employee Use Of Health Care Transparency Tools." Standing Partnership Blog, March 19, 2014

 

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BHCG Monitor: Focus on Health Care Benefits - April 2012