How to encourage employees to use their health care benefits

If you offer your employees health insurance benefits, it is in your best interest to encourage them to use them to the fullest.

“Smart employers realize that the reason preventive services are built into their policies is to keep employees healthy and at work,” says Timothy Law, DO, senior medical director for Clinical Services at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. “Savvy employers communicate to employees that they do want them to get preventive services and they are not going to hold doing so against them. It not only helps employees be safer and healthier, but it also helps the bottom line because conditions are being caught early, before you’re paying for care for something that has progressed to a catastrophic condition.”

Smart Business spoke with Law about how employers can help employees overcome reluctance to use their health care benefits.

Why are some employees hesitant about using their health care benefits?

With car insurance, people get into a fender bender and don’t file a claim because their rates will go up, but health insurance doesn’t work that way. The benefits are there to be used, and employees need to know that and understand in advance of needing them what those benefits are, so that when they do need them, they aren’t afraid to use them.

Medical care in the U.S. tends to take a much more reactionary approach, instead of the proactive approach many other countries take. We take our health and our health care for granted, so much so that, when people finally do seek care, they need to take three steps back simply to get to where they were before they got sick.

How can employers encourage employees to use their benefits and seek preventive care?

Employers can play a huge role, especially when employees are fearful of losing their job as a result of taking care of themselves or their families. Employers need to encourage employees to get preventive care such as blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer screenings, and to engage in other preventive measures, such as flu shots.

To do that, many larger companies are bringing health care into the workplace, providing flu shots in the office, or making physical therapy available so it’s as simple as walking down the hall. You need to make sure employees know it’s not only OK to take care of themselves, but that you want them to, especially now. Insurers can also play a role, for example, by setting up benefits websites so that when employees log in, the landing pages are reminders about preventive care. So, if someone logs in to find out what their co-pay will be, they first have to navigate through information about preventive services.

How has the pandemic impacted preventive care?

The pandemic has made it more difficult because employees are not only alienated from their employers but from other employees. They were fearful to leave the house at all, let alone go out into a medical setting.

There may be employees who say, ‘Well, I didn’t get that service two years ago, or last year, because of COVID, and I’m fine. So why do it this year?’ But as a result of that fear, nationwide, we have seen diagnoses of chronic diseases occurring later as people become more comfortable going out. Employers need to encourage employees to seek out those services they may have neglected during the pandemic.
The pandemic has also increased the use of telehealth services, with a 3,000 percent increase in telehealth visits for physical ailments, and an 8,000 percent increase in visits for mental health. And while physical visits are nearing normal numbers again, mental health visits via telemedicine remain high.

Prior to the pandemic, a majority of people surveyed thought telehealth offered subpar care and that most things they needed couldn’t be done via the medium. Now, a large majority say that the quality of care via telehealth is on par or better than in person.

The bottom line is that employees need to take advantage of the health care services available to them, whether via telehealth or in person. The industry is becoming more proactive about health care, and it’s critical that employees understand their benefits and feel comfortable using them.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Timothy Law

Senior medical director for Clinical Services
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Senior medical director for Clinical Services, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield