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There's irony lurking in the shadows of the health savingsaccount (HSA) world. Employers are increasingly offering highdeductible health plans (HDHPs) coupled with HSAs as part ofemployee benefits packages. Enrollment data from AHIP shows thatenrollment in HDHPs has grown from 1 million in 2005 to more than23 million in 2017. And the 2018 Midyear Devenir HSA ResearchReport shows 23.4 million open HSAs, an 11 percent year-over-yeargrowth.

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Related: 9 takeaways on HSA growth

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Yet, while employers and theinsurance industry widely recognize HSAs as effective financialmanagement tools for employees, a recent study commissioned byFurther reveals that only 1in 3 employees actively usethem.

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The gap between employer HSAofferings and employee engagement may seem as unbridgeable as theGrand Canyon, especially when you, the broker, are increasinglyresponsible for educating diverse workforces across multipleindustries about the benefit and convincing employees to useit.

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Fortunately, there's a key tonarrowing the chasm, and it lies in addressing employee healthliteracy. As employee benefits professionals, we live in a worldfull of jargon and acronyms that, to the average health careconsumer, might as well be Klingon. Further's research bears thisout. Study participants cited “employee level of personal healthcare knowledge/education” as the biggest challenge when offeringhealth spending/savings accounts, with 31 percent of respondentsrating the scenario as “very challenging.” It's no wonder thatemployee participation in HSAs lags behind enrollment numbers.Before anyone can actively involve themselves, they need tounderstand not only what's in it for them, but the very terms thatdefine the benefits.

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Take a plain language approach

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The best place to beginaddressing health literacy is by training yourself first. Bemindful about speaking in everyday language that your clients'employees will understand, and then coach your clients to speak thesame way. Words and phrases like “deductible,” “copay,”“coinsurance,” “premium,” “in network versus out of network,” etc.,oftentimes don't make sense to people outside of the insuranceindustry or HR. The more you use plain language, the moreunderstandable, the more digestible and the more relatable theinformation is going to be to workers. One Further studyparticipant said it best: “Employers must know [their] audience.Speak to them in language and grammar and stories that facilitateunderstanding of what's meaningful to them regarding their healthspending/savings programs.”

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Capture mindshare when it's available

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Most adults are open to learningsomething new on specific occasions:

  • Whenthey're intrinsically motivated by a personal interest orpassion
  • Whenthey're extrinsically motivated by an immediate reward, whetherit's tangible or intangible
  • Whenthey feel compelled to fulfill an obligation

When it comes to health literacy,you can bet that most workers fall into the last category oflearners. Therefore, you need to capture their mindshare when itmakes sense to do so, and the most obvious time is before andduring open enrollment. However, a one-and-done approach won't beenough to get the information to stick. Just like learning aforeign language, if a student doesn't use it, they'll lose it.Therefore, take advantage of other opportunities to shareinformation when employees may be open to learning, such as duringtimes of lighter workloads, like summer.

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Likewise, be sure to makeeducational materials easily accessible whenever employees needthem, such as during life events that could change eligibilitystatus — moving to a different state, marriage, divorce, birth oradoption of a child, etc.

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Leverage the ancient art of storytelling

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When introducing HSAs for thefirst time, it's easy to focus on the numbers and the calculatorsthat help individuals figure out how much to save, how to spend,and the amount they'll save in taxes over the short and long term.While numbers can be compelling from an intellectual standpoint, itcan be difficult for employees to relate to them if they've neverused a health savings plan before or don't have any idea how muchthey've spent on health care in the past. That's where the power ofstorytelling can help.

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The use of storytelling to improve literacy is welldocumented in the world of formal education. Storytelling'sinfluence, however, doesn't stop when the diplomas are distributed.Rather, stories help us learn throughout our entirelives.

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When you use storytelling toguide employees in planning their health care savings and spending,they can see themselves and their family situation in thosestories, which is more impactful than trying to coach throughcalculator-based models. For instance, illustrate for them thebest-case scenario for their particular plan. Ask them to visualizethat everyone they're supporting on their plan stays healthy forthe year and are only going to the doctor for routine, preventativecare. Then, show them what the plan would look like under thatscenario. Do the same thing for a worst-case scenario.

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Lean on your partners

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Don't be afraid to rely on yourhealth spending and savings account administrator partner forinformation. They will not only keep you up-to-date on the latestlegislative rules and regulations of HSAs, but can also provideresources that help you, your clients and their employees betterunderstand these health finance accounts. Your spending accountadministrator works in this space daily and has a plethora oftools, resources and professionals who specialize in the world ofHSAs.

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When they just won't get it

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Finally, realize that some ofyour clients' employees will simply refuse to comprehend and engagewith an HSA, no matter what educational steps everyone tries.However, it's important to not give up. Instead, try to find outwhy. Is it fear? Is it frustration or anger about a transition intheir benefits that was put forth to them, but they don'tunderstand the reason behind the change? Helping employeesunderstand the “why” behind a change in health benefits is criticalbefore they'll be open to learning about the product and how to useit. More importantly, when explaining the reason, be sure toinclude a story that's going to make sense for the employee, notjust the employer.

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Health care saving and spendingis complex, which makes the topic less-than-appealing for mostpeople. However, we know how vital it is for individuals to learnthe language and understand how their health benefits can help themlive their best lives. By mindfully using plain language, opportunetimes to capture attention and storytelling, you can go a long wayto helping your clients and their employees achieve healthliteracy.

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Emily McAuliffe is ChiefExperience and Marketing Officer with Further, a national leader inhealth spending and savings account administration dedicated toguiding account holders across the U.S. in saving and spendingwisely on their health care. Further serves large corporations,small businesses, labor unions, retirees, and groups in the publicsector by providing health savings accounts (HSAs), flexiblespending accounts (FSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs),voluntary employee beneficiary association (VEBA) accounts andcommuter benefit services. Visit hellofurther.com for moreinformation.

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