How to bridge the health insurance knowledge gap for younger employees

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With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, young adults were able to stay on their parents health insurance plans until the age of 26. But once they get their own health insurance, many young employees make common and costly mistakes because they don’t have the proper education when choosing their own programs.

This information gap could result in employees being hesitant to seek care, resulting in higher medical expenses for employees and reduced productivity from sick leave.

“It’s a challenge— there’s a fair number of employees that will come off of their parent's insurance at the age of 26,” says Amanda Baethke, director of corporate development at Aeroflow Healthcare. “There's not a lesson that you go through in order to understand insurance.”

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Employers can help bridge this gap through proper training and communication strategies. In a recent interview, Baethke shared her thoughts on how employers can provide this extra education and what they can gain from it.

How can employers help younger workers avoid health insurance mistakes?
It's beneficial for HR to do a training where they're going over what co-pays, premiums, deductibles and coinsurance are. When signing up for insurance, employees are trying to decide which insurance to pick and may not understand the full impact of that decision. Employees could pick the cheapest one because they want less out of their paycheck. There's just not a lot of discussions happening and employees are left blind.

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What mistakes do young workers make when it comes to health insurance?
I’ll get a lot of questions from my team like ‘What’s an HSA and what’s the benefit?’ It's truly a lack of understanding, because nobody teaches it. A lot of mistakes will happen with out-of-network providers. They don't realize that there are insurance networks and then within those networks, there are more narrow networks underneath.

For example, an employee can call a doctor's office and ask if that office is in-network and the receptionist may respond that they are — especially for the national brands like UHC, Aetna, Cigna, Humana. However, many of those plans have narrow networks under them that allow them to better control cost. So the employee would want to ensure their particular group/plan is in-network.

Another thing is making sure employees know that even though they have a deductible, some preventative care is likely covered under their insurance. This will help them choose the right physician so if they do get sick later on, they can see that physician, rather than going to a hospital which would be more costly for them.

What specific role should HR take when it comes to educating younger employees about health insurance?
HR is responsible for making sure that employees understand the benefits that they're offering. HR works incredibly hard to deliver the best benefits possible and advocate for each and every employee. So why not just go the extra step and have a consultation with the insurance company to explain what the benefits mean, what is covered, what may not be covered, how to really navigate through the insurance company and work back with them.

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