We understand that employees face many barriers when shopping for healthcare.
To remedy this dilemma, we have to have conversations and do work to understand how we can put employees in a better position to be healthcare shoppers. To learn more about this complex topic, we sat down for a chat with Deb Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Umbra Health Advocacy and co-director of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates. Deb is also the author of, The Health Care Consumer's Manifesto, which explores why we don't shop for health care the way we shop for everything else.
Here are a few quick highlights from our conversation with Deb:
Creating Health Care Purchasing Power
“I really have always been focused on just the unfairness of how much financial vulnerability we put onto Americans, onto consumers, so I started wondering how we could flip that financial exposure and financial vulnerability into purchasing power because Americans are really good at shopping, and we are really good at spending our money on things. So voting with our wallets, spending our money on things we value and care about, we can shape or reshape markets. We've done it so many times and I continued to be sort of perplexed by it. Why don't we do that in health care?”
Thinking of Health Benefits as Compensation
“Literally a trillion dollars is leaving our pockets for health care or health insurance. Half of Americans get their health insurance through an employer and every HR person, every benefits person, knows that those health benefits are part of compensation. I understand that employees don't always think of their health benefits as part of their compensation. It's not the same. You can't go buy milk or clothing with it. But doesn't every HR person try to convey that your total benefits package, your total compensation includes those benefits? And so every bit that an employer spends on our health insurance is actually also our money.”
When Behavior Changes, So Should Solutions
“I don't think we've cracked the code at all. I think there are two things that we've learned from trying to fix these low-hanging fruits. One is that cost sharing has its limits, and I think we've reached them and that consumers can engage and want to engage differently with their healthcare decisions. And we need to make it easier for them to do so, and I think the pandemic has shown that consumers will adapt their behavior. We talked about the bad outcomes of you know, just not going back for care coming out of the pandemic, but also how about all the use of telemedicine. That's brilliant. Let's do that. Why ever pay for parking? You know, to have a conversation with a doctor or a surgeon or Nurse Practitioner. So I think what we've learned in the last couple years is that behavior can change and it can change rapidly but we need to design solutions for what people actually need.”
How Employers Can Help
“There are two main things that consumers really need at this point in the reality that we live in where employers can make a huge contribution. The first problem consumers face is just literally the cost of care. It is too high for many people to comfortably afford. The uncertainty about cost keeps a lot of people from seeking care that they need so employers have a role, and I think a very important role to play in smoothing out the financial anxiety. The perception that healthcare is unaffordable and everyone is one medical bill away from if not bankruptcy, a real financial hardship. So first employers can work to smooth out those um sort of financial obstacles to seeking care.”
“Another is that I always encourage consumers to use their voice in healthcare. I think employers have a very strong and powerful voice that they're not all using, so I often hear.”