There is no simple “hack” for health benefits communication, but we can borrow some tactics from marketing.

We have some bad news and some good news about health care benefits. The bad news is that only four percent of Americans understand basic terms like deductible, copay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum according to a survey by Policygenius. Respondents were wildly overconfident in their understanding of insurance.

Thus, the good news: confusion about health insurance literally cannot get (much) worse. If you’re in HR, trying something is almost guaranteed to create better results than carrying on as usual.

While we wish there was some simple “hack” for health benefits communication, there is not. Instead, let’s borrow some tactics from marketing to help your employees understand their benefits and use them.

A communications SOS

At present, employees don’t have an appetite to learn about health insurance because it’s an alphabet soup of acronyms: HDHP, CDHP, HSA, HRA, FSA, HMO PPO, etc. Few employees understand how different plans work or how costs are shared.

The result is that people don’t look for savings or even think there are bargains to be found. If you don’t know about the tax benefits of an HSA, you won’t sign up for one. If you don’t know about the cost differences between emergency care and urgent care, you’ll spend a $1,000 or more at the ER instead of $150 at urgent care.

We’re all complicit in this situation. Employees don’t care to Google all the jargon and acronyms. The insurance industry has done a spectacular job of making everything unintelligible to consumers. HR’s open enrollment seminars and brochures can often be boring, confusing and ineffective. We all need to simplify our communications. A not-so-funny example is that some employees are surprised to find out there’s a high deductible on their company’s HDHP. Perhaps simply calling it by its full name, a high-deductible health plan, rather than its acronym will eliminate the element of surprise.


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