Finish Strong: Help Consumers Enhance Health Literacy & Manage Expenses at Year's End

by Hillary Eames - 10/03/18

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By encouraging consumers to understand and take advantage of their healthcare plans, both their health and your hospital can reap the benefits.

More than half of Americans receive healthcare benefits from their employer, and many of those plans have high deductibles. On average, individuals are paying almost $2,200 dollars before insurance kicks in, and families are paying upward of $4,000. Originally, it was thought that high deductibles would encourage frugality: since the individual or family is spending more of their own money rather than their insurance’s, they’ll be more careful about the services they choose, buying care only when necessary. However, data shows the high-deductible approach isn’t delivering on that promise.

Instead, the research shows that people are cutting back not only on unnecessary care, they also postpone treatments and procedures that would enhance their overall health and quality of life due to the higher out-of-pocket costs.

“People are very cost-conscious about health care,” says Emily Main, managing editor at True North Custom. “Since most people are on high-deductible health plans, they’re less likely to pay for a treatment or procedure that they don’t think is medically necessary unless they’ve met their deductible. They’re also more likely to put up with something, such as joint pain, because they assume the problem is simply too expensive to address.”

In some cases, consumers avoid healthcare costs altogether, forgoing necessary treatments because they are worried they don’t have the money. One survey from Families USA found that one in four adults went without necessary health care because of the out-of-pocket cost, and Consumer Reports states that the same study found that almost 30 percent of people avoided health care when their deductible was $1,500 or higher.

Shop ’Til You Drop?

High deductibles were theorized to prevent overspending by encouraging healthcare shopping, motivating patients to find the physicians and services they can afford with their own money. In addition, roughly 30 percent of healthcare services are considered “shoppable,” ranging from physicians to lab testing to ambulatory services.

However, the majority of patients aren’t shopping, and there are several reasons why. First of all, Forbes reports that only 4 percent of Americans have a working knowledge of the four terms deemed necessary to understand health insurance (deductible, co-pay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum). The same Forbes article also suggests that the recent politicization of health care causes people to avoid the topic because of the heated discussions it can spark.

In addition, the availability of choices can be overwhelming, and patients may feel like they can’t decide. It’s also possible that patients don’t trust themselves to make the best decisions for themselves or their families because they don’t have the necessary time or familiarity with insurance to feel confident in their decision.

If consumers don’t trust themselves to find the best care, whom do they trust? In most cases, it’s the voice of their healthcare providers. Here are a couple ways you can guide consumers and position your organization as a trusted advisor—and the provider of choice—when the time comes to make a healthcare decision.

Maximizing Health Benefits

For most consumers, January 1 will reset the funds provided as part of a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or the out-of-pocket costs for healthcare expenses that count toward their deductibles. That means now is the time to help your community members consider how much remains to be spent before their FSA is depleted or the health plans begin paying for the majority (if not all) of their healthcare expenses.

If consumers have met their deductibles or are close to that threshold, this is the perfect time to encourage them to take advantage of health plan benefits and schedule those appointments, tests and procedures they have been putting off all year. Healthcare providers can help consumers save hundreds or even thousands of dollars if these medical services are completed before the end of the year.

Marketing Preventive Care

The fact that most people entrust their healthcare providers to recommend services and physicians gives healthcare marketers the opportunity to advocate for the patient and the provider at the same time. One way that True North Custom has recently done this is to highlight the covered or free preventive services that healthcare organizations may provide.

“People aren’t always aware of what preventive screenings are covered by their insurance,” Main says. “These can include wellness visits, vaccinations or certain cancer screenings. Those are annual benefits that have to be used during a plan year, so we tell our clients to make sure people are aware of those free services that don’t depend on whether or not someone has met his or her deductible.”

In a 2012 study in Health Affairs, one in five people avoided preventive services because they assumed there was a cost. Take the opportunity to educate your readership about what free preventive services your facilities offer patients.

Additionally, consider connecting the information about these benefits covered by insurance with other healthcare topics. Some ideas to consider:

  • An article about flu prevention can discuss the fact that flu vaccines are covered by most insurances. 
  • An introduction to a new healthcare provider can encourage patients to schedule their yearly health screening. 
  • Advertise that physicians will work with patients to help find quality care at the cost they can afford. 
  • Look for ways to explain healthcare benefits your facility offers in a clear, educational tone.

Ninety-six percent of Americans don’t understand health insurance terminology. Address your audience in a way that makes them feel like the 4 percent who do, and they may use that knowledge when deciding where to go for their next hospital visit.

Connect with Your Community

True North Custom works with 500+ healthcare organizations to develop integrated content strategies. Find out how we can help engage consumers and physicians in your area to drive brand and revenue growth.

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Topics: Healthcare Industry Insights & Trends

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