In the know

As employees become increasingly aware of the costs of health care and are being asked to pay more of their share, they are becoming smarter consumers.

With benefit enrollment sessions underway at many companies, employers are looking to provide useful tools and credible information to help employees navigate successfully through health care options and benefits choices.

Savvy employers turn to carriers that can help educate employees by providing tools that offer health and benefit management information online at any time. More and more, employees are accessing health information through the Internet to become better-informed decision-makers.

Approximately 109 million U.S. Web users have sought health care information online in the past year, up from 97 million in 2001, according to a Harris Interactive survey.

What to look for in a carrier

Cutting-edge benefits companies support the movement toward consumerism and are providing online information and personalized tools to guide employees through the complex maze of health information and employee benefits.

As a result, they are raising awareness among employees about the true costs of health care and turning high-demand consumers into more prudent and discerning purchasers.

Employers should look for several features when choosing a carrier that will help employees understand their options while engaging them in the selection, purchase and use of their benefits. Some things to look for:

* Employee self-service Web sites allow employees to review benefits online, enroll or make changes throughout the year, and run “what if” scenarios to view the impact of benefit and coverage changes to their paychecks.

* Interactive wellness programs provide information to users on disease prevention, condition education, behavior modifications and health promotion.

* Hospital comparison tools provide online access to evidence-based outcomes information such as mortality rates and length of inpatient stays on local hospitals for certain procedures and diagnoses.

* Drug comparison tools enable members to obtain cost information on prescription drugs and determine the availability of a less costly generic alternative.

* Medical procedure tools let members compare physicians’ fees for common procedures such as physical examinations, and highlight the value of accessing in-network care compared to out-of-network doctors.

* Health information hotlines provide users with access to registered nurses who can offer information on health issues, medical procedures and treatment options 24 hours a day.

Smart benefits shoppers are armed with information and are looking for an easy approach to managing their personalized benefits plan. About 31 percent of Americans say they will turn to the Internet the next time they need health information, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project; 93 percent of health information seekers have gone online to look for information about a particular illness or condition, while 55 percent gathered information before visiting a doctor.

Benefits companies that provide strong technological capabilities to meet the growing demand for better and more information will keep employees satisfied over the long term and confident that they are making intelligent and responsible health care decisions for their own well-being and that of their families. Paul Martino is vice president of Sales and Service covering Illinois and Wisconsin. He is responsible for managing sales and client management for Aetna’s middle market segment, which includes businesses with 51 to 3,000 employee lives. Martino is based in Chicago. For more information, contact him at [email protected] or (312) 928-3754.