Try as you might, it seems most workers still don´t understand their health plan. That´s one of the top-line findings from J.D. Power & Associates' third annual national study on health plans satisfaction.

And according to JDP's Jim Dougherty, executive director of the firm's helath care practice, what employees do know, they don't like much. "Members still tend to be least satisfied with the information and communications they receive from their health plan -- the third most important factor in overall satisfaction," he says. "Consequently, improving member communications can go a long way in driving higher levels of overall member satisfaction -- particularly since only one-third of members say they fully understand how their health plans work."

You can find the nuts and bolts of the study -- which covers more than 33,000 members in 131 plans across 17 regions -- online, but I chatted with Dougherty recently to get the inside scoop on what he found most interesting about this year's findings.

First, although member satisfaction regarding communication is on the bottom rung, Dougherty mentioned that "plans that are moving customer service online are gaining in satisfaction." Really? I would've thought removing the human element from plan communications would have been a driver in lowering satisfaction. But no, Dougherty told me: "If a Web site is designed well and members can find what they need easily, it appeals more to members since it takes less time to answer routine questions."

Dougherty also noted that "every one of the plans in the Northeast had a significant increase in satisfaction" and that California plans posted strong numbers as well. What's going on there on the coasts? In a word, reform. Dougherty seems to believe that the buzz surrounding Massachusetts' health reform initiative and California's efforts to do the same was a rising tide that lifted all boats, so to speak.

One last nugget involved Dougherty's take on JDP's numbers regarding "plan tenure," specifically when it came to consumer-driven plans. Employers that had a rocky first year with a CDHP should take heart, as the survey shows that although member satisfaction in their first year of a CDHP is pretty low, year two seems to mark a turning point.

"In year two, they're much more satisfied," Dougherty's told me. "They understand the plan better, their health care spending needs better, how to manage an account and the tax savings better. It takes about a year to 18 months for them to get there, but if they can get to the second year, they are happier."

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