Benefit Advisors — Educating Employers and Employees

There is a need to help employers and employees understand the changing landscape of benefits and the way in which they are funded. An increase in the offering of consumer-driven health care products has not translated into increased understanding on the part of consumers, thus exposing a greater need for educational tools and assistance from benefits professionals. The role of educating employers and employees lies with the benefits advisor. That person’s role is to assist the employer and to make sure that the employee understands how benefits work. If your broker is not assisting you with this, it may be time to reevaluate with whom you are doing business.

Many Misunderstand Their Benefits

The number of individuals opting for high-deductible health plans, health savings accounts, and health reimbursement accounts continues to rise, yet research shows that consumers, even those who have such plans and accounts, do not fully understand them. Only 30% of HSA account holders passed a basic HSA proficiency quiz as part of a survey for Waltham, Massachusetts – based Alegeus Technologies’ 2014 Consumer and Employer Healthcare Benefits Survey. With a 50% pass rate on the flexible spending account proficiency quiz, FSA account holders did not score much better. The results point to a significant consumer education gap and a need for more educational assistance from benefit advisors and other professionals, as well as innovative tools to improve employees’ understanding of their health care plans and choices.

According to the survey, a lack of understanding of the full account value proposition may actually be hindering adoption of HSA accounts. More than 40% of consumers still view HSAs as spending accounts, “exhibiting a lack of understanding of the ability to save beyond the plan year or invest HSA funds,” as stated in the survey.

Employers can play a huge role in educating employees about their benefits, but the survey found most of today’s employers offer limited benefit support. That is where a broker, such as the Merriam Agency, can come into play. The survey suggests that sixty-five percent of employers communicate about health benefit enrollment only during the open enrollment period, and nearly 60% only rely on plan summary documents and enrollment forms to communicate benefit plan/account options. Only a third of employers offer interactive tools such as plan comparison calculators.

Employees Rate Employer Communication as Low

One interesting finding, in the above survey, came in regards to employer perceptions about the quality of their benefit communication and support, noting that employers often think they are doing a better job than their employees perceive they are doing. In employee assessment of the quality of various aspects of employer benefit communications (clarity, depth, format, personalization and frequency), employee ratings were consistently 20% lower than employer ratings.

Benefit Advisors are a Valuable Resource

Benefit advisors are exceptionally well positioned to be the driving force to help employers and their employees get the full value of these accounts, so as to maximize and optimize their tax savings and simplify the health care process. It would be wise for you to engage your benefits advisor in this conversation before this year’s open enrollment period.

Portions of the content of this article were taken from the July 11, 2014 piece written by Melissa Winn in Employee Benefit Advisor.