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Five Tips for Agents

Helpful Tips for Agents of Consumer Driven Health Care Plans

Providing the best service for clients – it’s what we ALL strive to do!  As an Agent, you routinely assist business owners and managers who depend on you to make employee benefits meaningful, affordable and accessible.  As much as we all try to keep up with the latest trends, it isn’t easy – especially when expectations have shifted in this new and emerging Consumer Driven Healthcare marketplace.  Different parts of the country have different stats to report, but for the most part this model is new, and folks just “don’t know what they don’t know.”  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball to see exactly what a new CDHP client needs? 

Given the nation-wide composition of our HSA clientele, we’ve seen every possible permutation of Consumer Driven Health Plan, and just as many ways of explaining them (some good, some not so much).   As a result, we’ve compiled a short list of topics for agents to proactively address.  

Think of these “5 Tips” while you’re talking with clients who are thinking about a CDHP, or who are actively starting the shift!

Tip #1Never Assume!  The most common misstep we see is agents (and employers) who assume that folks understood their old plan.  Now, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t try, or that they weren’t smart enough to ‘get it’ – it’s simply a reflection of the fact that benefit useage is event driven.  To the extent a person or a family didn’t use the benefits they formerly had, they will not be familiar with what they were. This brings to mind a recent Rand study that showed that while different employer groups were saving significant amounts of money with their new CDHPs, many individuals within the groups were not getting the preventative care they needed – even though it was FREE.  Once the researchers drilled down a little, they found the biggest segment of these folks did not know these benefits were available to them. A lack of self-education?  Perhaps.  But we can reasonably guess that because the employees in question weren’t used to this model, it simply did not occur to them to use the benefit!  So should we re-hash the old plan in order to segue to the new?  During enrollments we’ve seen this take place, and I truly believe agents do it without really meaning to because…

Tip #2Attention spans are short – make the time with your Group count!  Try as we might, and with the best intentions, benefit meetings are usually not thrilling stuff.  Telling folks all about what they “used to have…” then comparing the new plan with the old typically confuses everyone, and by the time the agent is done re-explaining the old plan they’ve lost the group’s attention!  Not that mentioning the former plan is a complete no-no, but if employees didn’t connect with the value of the old plan when they had it, how does it have any bearing on the current (and future) package of benefits?  Typically we see this old vs. new method backfire and lead to employees feeling like they’re losing something in favor of the new option; all the benefits they perhaps never used (or understood) start looking pretty good.  This will do nothing but torpedo efforts to keep employees’ attention in the here-and-now so that the new plan is not the same old mystery; or worse, the new enemy.

Tip #3People like to know (see) how scenarios might play out with the new numbers.  Whether in front of a group or one-on-one with a client over coffee, visual aids are always good - the larger and simpler the better.  Taking a client or a group of employees through a simple example of how a typical health care cost scenario looks on paper can often diffuse questions and stop people from connecting dots that aren’t there.  The reason is that the often-perceived huge liability of a “high deductible” in most cases turns out not to be that big after all.  This is a wonderful time to illustrate savings for the average consumer, and also to help those with larger regular expenses and chronic issues get their mind around how the process of paying larger (or over-time) medical bills really works.  Walking through a “trip to the doctor” and explaining the reason the HSA debit card won’t even come into play during the visit, then going briefly through the timeline of when and what to expect when it comes to EOBs, final bills, and methods of payment is a crucial step to a person embracing the Consumer Driven concept. This leads us right to…

Tip #4 – Clients who are new to the CDHP model often ask about “big” bills -- and with good reason. They want to know, “What if I don’t have more than a couple of bucks in my HSA, and I hit my deductible in February of a plan year that started in January?”  Believe it or not, this is the most common question – and I always take it as an encouraging sign because it demonstrates engagement.  This is a great teaching moment, and also a good time for a large pad of white paper and a marker.  Running through this scenario, and underscoring the realistic way they would pay any large medical bill (regardless of plan design) is a good exercise.  Using the numbers associated with the new plan can quickly show the cost differential from a parallel benefit choice or a former plan.  This is really the only time I recommend bringing up the “old plan” because more often than not, the out-of-pocket costs are significantly different in a very good way.

Tip #5 – Those new to CDHPs want to know about a “good” banking option!  Keep in mind that the whole concept of account ownership when it comes to healthcare dollars is very new to most – and, that the potential for confusion between where the health plan piece ends and the banking piece begins is great.  The best way to make sure this confusion does not occur is to have confidence in a sound HSA Custodian who will work to support your efforts with education and ease-of-use for your client.  The banking option should have a solid track record with HSAs, and staff should be able to field pretty much any HSA-related question.  For example, they should be able to guide clients and help them understand why timing related to opening and funding their HSA is important. The Blackhawk team opens most employer group and individual HSAs in partnership with agents up to a month before the effective date of the health plan, in anticipation of possible coverage needed on day-one. Of course we do this with a zero balance - allowing funding only once the insurance is effective – at which time we order debit cards and checks and initiate online banking functions.  This allows time for follow-up education (if needed) before insurance takes effect, and it does not leave folks vulnerable with a gap between insurance effective date and account date.

There are doubtless many more examples of challenges agents face when introducing and /or implementing a CDHP.  I am glad to share these few tips, and hope they assist you to be that invaluable resource for your clients.  I would also love to hear from you with better or different tips or challenges that you have encountered. please don’t hesitate to contact Blackhawk Bank’s HSA team!

Email HSAcoordinator@Blackhawkbank.com