PHOENIX -- At Desert Schools Credit Union, when it comes to benefits it is all about choice.
"The decision to offer high-deductible health plans was about consumerism and offering more choices to employees and creating an opportunity for people to lower their premium on a monthly basis," said Desert Schools CU Human Resource Benefits Manager Michelle Maggio. "Yes, there is a higher deductible, but the tax-free money was something we thought would also appeal to some of our employees, and with the credit union offering health savings accounts, everything seemed to fall into place."
Within just a year of incorporating the Humana HDHP into its health care benefits offerings, 145 out of 1,300 total employees have opted in. Maggio said because HDHPs are so different from the other traditional HMO and PPO plans, education is absolutely vital.
"Communication is key because it can be confusing, and it is important they understand how HDHPs work to determine if they are a right fit for them," said Maggio. "In all honesty the HDHP monthly premiums are the least expensive, but the employee is taking on more risk--typically a $2,000 single or $4,000 family deductible incurred on the front end." If families do not frequently use the option, they still enjoy the safety net of coverage with the lower monthly premium and can put money into their HSAs.
To help staffers better determine if HSAs are for them, prior to the first open enrollment period with the HDHP option, Desert Schools CU's human resources department sent educational materials via e-mail and in print. In addition, employees were directed to network provider Humana's Web site (www.humana.com), which offers a number of educational resources and tools ranging from healthcare calculators and network providers to comparative service costs.
"Employees get a real idea of just how much services cost and they are encouraged to go to network providers to get the most bang for their buck," said Maggio. "So far the feedback from those enrolled in HDHPs has been very positive. They love the premium low cost, that their preventive care is still covered 100% and the transparency of costs."
She added that the common misperception or fear in offering HDHPs is that employees won't go to the doctor until they have a problem.
"Preventive care is actually encouraged in these plans because it is so important to identify potential risks early," said Maggio. "It's not the scary monster that people think it is. Adding any plan requires some administrative work, and the greatest challenge with HDHPs is the education and communication. But it is no more than we would do for any plan. For us with the credit union offering HSAs, the benefit of having yet another option for our employees was just a natural fit."
Desert Schools' communication and education has to be done on an ongoing basis and the more interactive the better. As to how it will impact the bottom line and help lower the credit union's overall health care costs, Maggio said only time will tell.
"I think as HDHPs become a little more commonplace and the more education about them and HSAs grows and people have a better understanding of it, more credit unions may gravitate toward offering the option to their employees."