From the April 2011 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine •Subscribe!

HSA engagement a year-round commitment

With last year’s open enrollment season fading into memory, it would seem like a good time to move on to other business. But that would be a mistake. The reality is that your clients need you more than ever — particularly if they introduced a high-deductible health plan with health savings accounts to their work force. Educating employees about HSAs isn’t over when open enrollment season ends.

It’s a good idea after the plan year has started to assist your clients by providing follow-up information or even hosting question-and-answer sessions to help employees become comfortable with planning, saving and paying for qualified medical expenses with their HSAs. By communicating steadily, employers can achieve higher employee satisfaction. And, by helping employers do that, you’ll demonstrate your value as a trusted advisor and resourceful consultant.

Timing is critical 
Even with a successful open enrollment, participants can forget or misplace account details by the time their new coverage begins. They also might need a refresher on how the account works. Early in the plan year is the time for a second wave of communications to make sure employees have opened their new accounts and are using them to pay for doctor’s office visits, prescriptions or medical tests.

Employers tell us that sometimes HSA owners begin to second-guess their choice in the three to six months after they’ve opened accounts. This could be because they might have incurred medical expenses before building their HSA balances. Some, no doubt, get frustrated because it’s a new routine and a new way of paying for health care. That’s when brokers should be ready to act. Using tools and information provided by HSA custodians and adding their own special touch, they can provide well-timed education to help employees become comfortable with their new plans and accounts. 

Ongoing communication
To build and sustain employee satisfaction with their benefits, help your clients implement a year-round approach to benefits communications, tailored to different employee groups’ experience and needs. Some brokers will host lunch sessions for employees in the first months of their HSA eligibility. Not only do they take questions, but sometimes the conversation turns into a helpful give-and-take with employees offering each other tips on how they’ve used the accounts successfully.

Tie certain communications to calendar
For example, March and April would be an obvious period to reinforce the tax advantages of HSAs. The HSA custodian might have a ready-to-go newsletter or e-mail that can be sent to your clients on the latest rules regarding tax deductible contributions. If not, check the IRS’s website for important information — such as contributions for 2010 can be made as late as April 18 — that can serve as useful reminders for human resources representatives.

Be sure to also send your clients news articles that discuss consumer directed health care and how employees can take advantage of their health accounts. Ask HSA custodians about ready-to-use communications such as interactive tutorials, brochures and other educational materials that you can share with clients. And check organizations like the Employee Benefit Research Institute and America’s Health Insurance Plans, which periodically issue reports and studies about the benefits of HSAs and rising adoption rates.

Go the extra mile
Old-fashioned customer service also remains an effective way to bolster employee engagement in their HSA plans and help cement client relationships. Many brokers, for instance, meet with their clients during the first month or two of the plan year, and then hold quarterly meetings thereafter. Some brokers check in even more frequently, sending e-mails directly to employees to see if they have any questions or posting answers on their websites to frequently asked HSA questions. Another tactic is to host an after-hours web seminar for employees and their spouses or other family members who want to learn about their health care benefits. Some advisors really extend themselves to their clients.

One, for example, found herself facing disgruntled employees who were ineligible for the new HSA offered at work because they were enrolled already in their spouses’ flexible spending accounts. So, the advisor set up a schedule to track the expiration date of those FSA plans. One month before the FSA plans expired, she reminded the employees not to re-enroll in them so they could open HSAs instead. It’s not surprising that employees may be initially confused about how HSAs can help them manage their health care spending.

Many have spent years making co-payments at the doctor’s office or pharmacy without being aware of their total medical costs. In many cases, human resource managers also are learning about high-deductible health plans and HSAs right along with the employees they serve. That’s why it’s important for brokers to persuade employers to embrace a strategy of ongoing education. Done correctly, employers can achieve a dramatic increase in HSA effectiveness and employee satisfaction.

 

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