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Optavise Survey Shows Employers Have the Opportunity to Enhance Employee Understanding of Healthcare

Nearly half of U.S. employees learn about their employer-sponsored health plans from sources outside of their employer

Optavise, a one-stop-shop for employee benefits programs, combining products, technology, and expert guidance, today released its 2023 Healthcare Literacy Report, which found that employers are missing several opportunities, including cost reduction, by not improving their benefits education efforts.

Key findings of the report indicate that employers have an important and growing opportunity to educate their workforce about how to effectively choose and use their healthcare coverage.

“Health insurance is important to an individual’s physical and financial well-being,” said Kim Buckey, vice president, client services. “The more employees understand how their plans work and how their decisions affect their out-of-pocket costs, the more satisfied they will be. Employers have an opportunity to take the lead in increasing healthcare literacy rates among their workforces. By providing consistent, year-round healthcare literacy education, employers can ensure their employees aren’t overspending on healthcare, which saves money for all involved.”

Benefits dissatisfaction can lead to poor cost management 
Compared to last year, fewer respondents report that they are very or extremely confident in understanding how their plan works (68%), down from 71% in 2022, and 35% are taking the time to compare the costs of medical services or prescription drugs before incurring expenses, down from 38% in 2022.

Optavise found that only 35% of employees check on the network status of the provider or facility whenever they need care, which can have a significant impact on the employee’s out-of-pocket costs. Also, before receiving care, only 35% of respondents said they compare treatment or service costs. Of those who never compare costs, 67% didn’t know that they could, which means that employees and subsequently employers are likely overpaying for care.

All educational resources are not equally effective 
Direct involvement by Human Resource (HR) departments in benefits education also declined. One-on-one conversations with HR decreased from 28% in 2022 to 26% this year and have been replaced by employers’ increased use of online resources (63%), up from 53% last year.  

Unfortunately, employees don’t perceive the resources their employer made available to help teach them about health benefits to be as helpful as one-on-one, personalized guidance. According to the report, 68% of employees said that online resources are very or extremely helpful, compared to 84% who reported that one-on-one conversations are very or extremely helpful. Only 49% said that email is very or extremely helpful, down from 59% in last year’s survey.

The study also found that nearly half (46%) of employees learn about their benefits from friends, family, and coworkers, the most commonly cited answer among those surveyed. Less frequent responses included receiving information from their employer’s HR team (27%), from representatives from their insurance carriers (18%), and from outside benefits experts (15%).

Opportunities exist for employers to close benefits knowledge gaps
Compared to last year, overall knowledge of key benefits terminology has increased for six of the nine key terms including premium, deductible, copay, out-of-pocket maximum, in-network, and out-of-network.

However, the study shows that a clear knowledge gap exists in certain industries, including employees who work in education and retail as well as among younger employees and those who earn less than $50,000 a year. When asked about their confidence in understanding their health plan, 60% of respondents in education and 64% in retail said they felt extremely or very confident in their understanding compared to 68% of the total respondents.

Similarly, only 62% of respondents making less than $50,000 a year reported feeling extremely or very confident in their understanding of their health plan. The study also shows that age correlates to a greater understanding of benefits with 80% of Baby Boomers reporting knowing each healthcare term and how it relates to their coverage compared to 76% of Gen X, 68%, of Millennials, and followed by 60% of Gen Z.