Workers not getting help they need to navigate the health care system

The workplace might seem like the perfect place to educate employees about how to access health care, but there doesn’t seem to be much movement on that front, according to a survey of 550 benefit managers conducted by Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.

Only 20% of employers strongly believe that their workers know how to navigate the health care system, yet wellness programs do not focus much on this aspect of employees’ well-being, the survey found.

Current wellness programs offered

Health advocacy services connect employees with advisers who can answer questions and provide advice about using the often-Byzantine health care system. The number of companies offering such services has remained stagnant at about 24% since 2013, according to Optum, and it’s a minority of companies that provide other kinds of help for dealing with the health care system.

Current penetration of programs designed to help employees navigate the health system

Source: Optum, “The Culture of Health Chasm: Exploring the Gap,” April 2016

Lack of takers may be a factor. When employers offer health advocacy services, just 26% of employees (on average) take advantage of them, the survey found.

The survey, which was conducted in December, found that most wellness programs continue to focus on physical health, despite the push for a more holistic approach that takes into account financial and social needs.

Companies are using financial incentives to coax employees into wellness programs. The survey found that employers spent $403 per participant per year on average. Most employers dangled premium discounts and contributions to health savings accounts in front of employees. The authors of the Optum white paper noted that premium discounts can mean a year-long wait for a reward. They said employers should use nonfinancial rewards like social recognition and time off to complement programs that depend on premium discounts.

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