If your promotion plan for your health savings account starts and ends with open enrollment, you’re losing enrollees and impact, two benefits experts maintain.

Jennifer Benz and Dennis Triplett are perhaps uniquely qualified to discuss education and strategy surrounding health savings account administration together, as their professional collaboration centers around developing exactly that strategy. Speaking to employers, brokers and providers last week at Benefits Forum & Expo, the communications expert and the UMB Healthcare Services CEO, respectively, shared techniques for maximizing enrollment and effective account management.

“We began working with Jen and her staff a couple years ago around the whole notion of communication, which we see a deficit of, honestly, in the success around HSAs,” Triplett said.

Speaking at Benefits Forum & Expo in Phoenix, the pair said there are two key aspects of maximizing HSA potential: attractive plan design and effective communications. And one of the simplest parts of each, according to Benz, is getting the name right.

“We see a lot of companies hanging onto these really confusing or counterintuitive plan names,” Benz said. “So if you call the health plan the HDHP or you call it the Catastrophe Plan or you call it the high-deductible plan, you know that’s not super, super appealing.”

Triplett emphasized letting the plans sell themselves. Employers should make sure their HSA actually has features like tax breaks and a catch-up contribution for older workers and then just present them accurately and engagingly.

Benz agreed, saying that a “robust, ongoing education” was far superior to trying to cram information in in the weeks and months leading up to enrollment.

“We know how to get people into these plans for the most part – you promote the heck out of the plan during enrollment, you give people a million different ways to understand the plans, you give the personal testimonials, you give them cost calculators, you give them great scenarios, you make the plan really attractive in terms of how the contributions stack up and you make that really clear, but a lot of companies just stop at that point,” she said. “Where it really comes to getting the most value out of consumer-driven strategy is getting people to use those plans properly throughout the year.”

Triplett said far too many consumers treat their HSA exactly the same as a flex-spending account – treating it like there was no rollover and having a flat balance year to year -- and illustrating the differences between an HSA and an FSA should be included in communication efforts.

“I guess they have two letters in common, but other than that, there’s several differences,” he said, adding that it was providers’ responsibility to “reverse the tide” on FSA thinking by tailoring the HSA advances to specific employees: “Personalize the message as best you can, put a persona around it.”

The average cost of all future medical needs for a fresh retiree is some $240,000, Triplett said, “something that quite a few even financial planners overlook.”

“And that’s for people who are 65 today, so think about the person who is 40 today, what kind of expenses he or she is going to be faced with in retirement.”

The room, which included a first-time employer hoping to add HSAs as a benefit for his workers and an HR exec who said she struggles with getting the most out of her own plan, was asked to participate by coming up with pitches for a few hypothetical wage-earners, finding ways of marketing psychologically.

A young, healthy employee with low health costs, for example, could be told about the tremendous edge in interest accumulation (“This is something that we just can’t emphasize enough,” Benz said) that comes with starting young and saving for the days when pretty much everyone racks up medial costs. One provider also suggested that to such workers she makes the family pitch: saving not just for not-yet-existent problems, but for not-yet-existent people.

On the other side of the spectrum, an older worker could be informed of catch-up contributions and available transfers to beneficiaries.

When given the hypothetical scenario of an employee with a chronic condition who needs a large amount of health care and asked what the proper message for them might be, one woman shouted out “choose the PTO.”

Benz said knowing one’s audience, in this case one’s workforce, is crucial to getting through to them.

“Who is in your plan? How are they using their account? How are they using their health plan, and so forth,” she said. “Then we can look at the behaviors we want to change and be very, very focused on getting people to get the most out of their plans.”

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