By - April 16, 2020

Shifting Employee Benefits Priorities Due to COVID-19

Employee Benefits Priorities

While the short-term impacts of COVID-19 are clear, with workforces transitioned to working from home or furloughed with zero scheduled hours for the time being, the long-term effects on your employees’ health and many organizations remain to be seen. Stress is high, tendencies to engage in unhealthy behaviors or substance abuse are likely to be magnified and avoidance of medical care can create serious risks. Hospitals are reporting a 40 to 60% reduction in admissions, with one explanation being an instilled fear of face-to-face medical care.

Employee benefits priorities

Most employers offer benefits that can be extremely helpful to employees working from home and under stay at home orders, but they have been underutilized in the past. These same programs help keep costs under control. Now is the time to reinvigorate efforts to raise employee awareness of programs ranging from telemedicine, to condition management programs to pharmaceutical subscription services. In some cases, employers may also benefit disproportionately by adding new vendors and programs to support employees’ needs and to make targeted efforts in controlling healthcare spending under these new circumstances.

How COVID-19 is redefining the benefits experience

One reason for low engagement in these benefits is—employees are overwhelmed with the vast landscape of vendors, programs, websites, phone numbers, and ID numbers. Considering the current stay at home orders, employees are further confused on whether any of these programs are still available to them. In order to help, we recommend the following actions:

  • Talk to your vendors about virtual visit substitutions
  • Proactively communicate about telemedicine options
  • Prepare for a revised open enrollment experience

Virtual visit substitutions

Most medical plans include telemedicine options for common issues, such as a cold or sore throat. With employees now at home, engagement with your other programs may cease without working with your other vendors on virtual visit options. For example, if you have chronic condition management programs, ensure employees who are enrolled know that they can continue their treatment over the phone or through video chat. And work with your provider to allow new enrollments in a strictly virtual environment.

Proactively communicate about telemedicine

Update your benefit guides to highlight the telemedicine options available to them.  Also, encourage employees to contact their doctors or specialists, most of whom have adopted telemedicine. From family doctors to psychiatrists to specialists, there are secure and HIPAA-certified services available to employees. It’s important to communicate this proactively to reduce the number of employees avoiding care because they believe their doctor is unavailable.

Prepare for a revised experience during open enrollment

The post-COVID-19 world will require additional thought and effort by HR teams in their approach to open enrollment. This is one time where all of HR’s hard work is on display to the entire company, and the pandemic will most certainly change the priorities of what benefits programs are highlighted. Telemedicine will move from a “nice to have option” to a “must have option”. Employees will be less likely to convene in large group settings for benefits fairs. Work from home policies will be more relaxed.

We already view open enrollment as a chance to smartly highlight the different vendors beyond your insurance carrier so that employees are more prepared. However, it’s more important to effectively reach your employees and educate them on how your company is reacting to the changing needs of employees.

Open enrollment benefits program strategies

The following are some tips I recommend to clearly present your benefits programs.

  • The following are some tips to better preTell employees what’s new from vendors to benefits programs. Use special call outs to highlight changes and updates in your benefits guide.
  • Use a comprehensive benefits decision support tool. When employees complete their enrollment through your HRIS, they only see the benefits that require enrollment or opt out. Your decision support tool should help employees engage in all programs that are available to them as eligible employees such as your onsite medical clinics, doctor referral programs, EOB dispute resolution vendor, and diabetes management program.
  • Ask questions and let your vendors be the answers. Engaging employees in a simple conversation (whether in person, over the phone, or using interactive chat bots) to find out if they have any ongoing conditions, a new diagnosis, or used an onsite clinic can help drive engagement with available programs. Ensuring vendors are HIPAA-compliant and that you have confidentiality clauses with them is key, especially if sensitive topics are discussed.
  • Prepare for an alternative benefits vendor fair. While it’s unclear how employees will view large gatherings after weeks or months of social distancing, it’s prudent to prepare for a virtual benefits fair. Leverage a technical expert to help you plan using features such as webinars to educate large numbers of employees and breakout rooms to allow employees to have direct conversations with vendors.

Conclusion: with focus, engagement will improve

To effectively manage the shift in employee benefits priorities, you may want to seek help from an outside vendor to implement these three recommendations. A vendor like Tango Health can remain behind the scenes and help you increase employee engagement with your benefits programs and achieve your goals to increase satisfaction and decrease medical trend. We help guide employees to understand, select, find and use their benefits.

Learn more about how we can help:

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