Five Tips to Help Employees Make the Most of Health Benefits

Advice to Help Employees Navigate Open Enrollment Amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many companies in New Jersey and nationwide to operate differently, presenting new challenges and requiring some to respond to a newly at-home workforce.

Whether employees are working remotely or in-person, this fall’s open-enrollment season for health benefits will likely be different than in the past. In fact, a recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 44% of respondents expect to change the health plan they select due to COVID-19, including 16% opting for an option with lower out-of-pocket costs and 10% selecting more comprehensive coverage. More than one-third (35%) of respondents said they expect to spend more time evaluating their benefits this year, and with good reason: The financial and healthcare challenges created by COVID-19 may make health benefit decisions especially important.

In most cases, the practice of employees gathering in a conference room to review health plan options has been postponed. Even before COVID-19, technology was reshaping how many employers select and offer healthcare benefits to employees, improving access to information and creating a more seamless and interactive healthcare experience. To help simplify the healthcare experience for employees, support their well-being and potentially curb costs, here are five tips New Jersey employers should consider during open enrollment and year-round.

Help Improve Healthcare Literacy: According to a UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 78 percent of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment1, yet previous research has shown that some people struggle to fully understand common healthcare terms and concepts, including plan premium, deductible, and co-insurance. Employers may help improve “healthcare literacy” by sharing public resources such as, which provides definitions for thousands of common healthcare terms in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Make Virtual Care a Priority: Given COVID-19 has changed how and where people obtain healthcare services, it may be important to offer a health plan that includes coverage for virtual care, ideally including options for telehealth visits with their own doctors and 24/7 access to a national provider network. If fact, the use of virtual care resources has surged more than 10-fold compared to 2019, enabling some people to connect with a healthcare provider via a smartphone, tablet or personal computer. Telehealth resources are designed to be a more convenient way to visit with a doctor about various health issues, ranging from urgent and routine care, on-going chronic condition management, behavioral health and specialty care such as oral and eye health.

Leverage Big Data: Employers now have important access to online resources that may enable managers to analyze and make sense of health data, taking into account aggregate medical, prescription and specialty claims, demographics, and clinical and well-being information. This may provide an analytics-driven roadmap to help employers implement tailored clinical management and employee-engagement programs, which may help improve health outcomes, mitigate expenses, and help employees take charge of their health.

Encourage Employees to Move More: Some health plans offer programs for employers that may enable their employees to earn financial incentives, such as gift cards or deductible credits, for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching, lowering cholesterol, going to gyms or using fitness trackers to monitor daily movement. For instance, employers may be able to provide virtual programs that give employees personalized, interactive online weight loss and exercise support, while other initiatives may provide various wearables to help with the early detection of COVID-19 and assist people during recovery (if needed).

Bundle Benefits: While many people may focus on medical coverage during open enrollment, it may be important that employees avoid overlooking specialty benefits such as vision, dental, hearing and accident protection. In fact, the recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 84% of employees said having access to specialty benefits is “important.” Plus, companies that combine medical coverage with specialty benefits through a single healthcare company may be able to leverage data to help improve health outcomes, flag gaps in care, drive productivity, and reduce costs. Some “bundle and save” programs enable employers to save up to possibly 4% on medical premiums* through administrative efficiencies and proactive clinical interventions.

By considering these tips, employers may help increase employee retention, satisfaction and build a culture of well-being.

*Savings may differ depending on the employer size, plans chosen and premiums; program may not be available in all states or for all employer sizes.

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