Communicating benefits will alleviate hurdles for serious medical conditions

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When employees and their family members are diagnosed with a serious or complex medical conditions such as cancer, COPD, brain injury or sickle cell disease, they often face a plethora of challenges.

These difficulties can include everything from finding the best physicians, undergoing treatment and living with the symptoms of their condition — all while simultaneously managing their responsibilities at work and home. As employees try to stay on top of their health needs, stress levels can rise and productivity can fall.

In fact, a report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, a nonprofit health and productivity research organization, found that lost productivity due to illness costs U.S. businesses $530 billion per year, with $198 billion lost because of impaired on-the-job performance due to health problems.

Employers have an opportunity to lower both the financial and human costs related to serious and complex health problems and provide support to employees who are facing these issues. The first step is to offer robust health benefits and other types of support such as case management, access to expert second opinions, strong leave policies and timely appointments with experienced specialists. The second step is to have a plan in place to ensure that employees know what benefits and support services are available to them — and to make these benefits and services easy to access.

How to ensure employees know what support is available

Benefits communication isn’t a once a year effort. Employers need to continuously communicate a variety of information, including:

  • Which benefits are available
  • How to enroll in or change benefits in the event of a life change such as marriage, divorce or a new child
  • Help understanding what their benefits entail and how to access them.

In addition to ensuring it is ongoing, it’s also important to understand communication may need to be tailored for employees at different levels in the organization and in different demographics. For example, younger employees who are new to the workforce may need more communication focused on understanding insurance basics such as how deductibles and copays work, the difference between in- and out-of-network care, and the ins and outs of FSAs and HSAs. This information makes it less likely that employees will face high bills for out-of-network care, which can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with their benefits. Demographically, both younger and more tech-savvy employees may prefer to receive all benefits communication electronically via a portal or an app.

Older employees may need more information on benefits, wellness offerings and support services that help them better manage chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, back or joint pain and serious illnesses such as cancer. These employees are also more likely to need information on offerings to support caregivers dealing with an aging parent, partner or spouse, including:

  • Services that keep them healthy or manage existing health issues while they take on the stressful, time-consuming role of caregiver
  • Caregiver support groups and services in the community, like respite care
  • Help navigating care for their loved one, such as seeking second opinions and gathering reliable, evidence-based information on conditions and treatments to help them make informed healthcare decisions.

Depending on their comfort level and experience with technology, these employees may respond better to communication that’s delivered via email, in person meetings or print materials.

For all employees, it’s important to frequently reiterate who the point of contact is both internally and externally for benefits questions. When employees don’t have this information, they often spend a significant amount of time doing things like searching for experienced in-network healthcare specialists, which not only heightens stress and frustration, but makes it more difficult for them to do their best work.

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