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Posted July 30, 2019

How Benefits Brokers Should Be Talking About HSAs During Open Enrollment


For benefits brokers, your work to help Americans offset costs and save for healthcare expenses has never been more critical. Because your daily work lies at the intersection of your clients’ financial and physical health, you are uniquely poised to influence and impact their wellness on both counts.

One of the best ways to do this is to introduce more workplaces to the advantages of a health savings account (HSA), which can offer both employees and employers tax savings. At a time when escalating healthcare costs are having a devastating effect on Americans’ financial health and preparedness, the HSA provides employees with a valuable financial tool to build long-term savings for the substantial healthcare expenses they can expect to face in retirement.


Communication challenges around health savings accounts

When WEX dug into the mountain of research we’d conducted earlier this year on paying for healthcare in America, we found consumer literacy about health savings accounts to be particularly lacking. Since HSAs were first rolled out in 2003, Americans have grown bewildered by the health insurance marketplace’s rapidly changing options, and misconceptions about HSAs have proliferated.

However, opportunities exist in both product and messaging for benefits brokers to overcome these barriers with solutions that address both the tactical and emotional benefits of HSAs. It’s imperative that the right messages are shared in the right way at the right time to help consumers make good decisions. One of the best times is during open enrollment, which will run this year from Nov. 1, 2019, to Dec. 15, 2019.

However, some consumers are so frustrated by the benefits decision-making process that they’ve become apathetic toward open enrollment. The biggest complaints we’ve heard regard confusing terminology, a lack of choice, difficulty in predicting medical costs and an overall lack of adequate support. To get employees asking questions about their best interests and put them at the center of the healthcare ecosystem, brokers have to talk to them in a way that engenders trust and supports the building of their self-confidence on these matters.


5 ways brokers can change the story about HSAs this year

Here are some suggestions on how to help Americans gain the confidence they need to make the best choice about healthcare benefits for themselves and their families:

  1. In an industry made unnecessarily complex by jargon, it’s more important than ever to keep it simple. Simply choosing your words more carefully when communicating with an audience can go a long way toward helping health savings accounts appear less complex and clearing up some of the biggest misunderstandings about them. For example, consider dropping the acronym altogether. New focus group research revealed that simply calling the account by its full name—a “health savings account” rather than an “HSA”—gives consumers a more favorable opinion. And WEX has found that instead of telling your clients that “HSAs provide triple-tax savings”—something that’s virtually meaningless to many people—tell them, “Use your health savings account for qualified medical expenses, and you don’t owe any tax on that money. At all. Ever.”
  2. Help employers understand that by mitigating the stress employees feel about healthcare expenses, they’re investing in their business. Twenty-seven percent of the workers WEX recently surveyed reported that their anxiety over healthcare expenses has grown worse since last year, and 24 percent say that forgoing healthcare services to save money has impacted their productivity or engagement at work. Equipping employers with facts like these can instill in them a greater appreciation for tools like HSAs that will build financial preparedness amongst their workforce.
  3. Take into consideration how much consumers rely on self-discovered trusted advisers (colleagues, friends and family members) when making decisions about health benefits. As we talked to consumers about their health benefits, a theme quickly emerged: Many question the motives of employers and benefits brokers and feel as though the system is a “game,” intentionally designed to be confusing. Forty-nine percent told us it is either “very challenging” or “somewhat challenging” to know whom to trust when it comes to looking after their financial and physical health. Because employees may never fully “trust” the intentions of a benefits broker, look for ways to promote a community of peers who can serve as resources for employees.
  4. Offer more education about HSAs, and more visibility and easy access to them. Provide both employers and employees with a comprehensive online tool that allows them to change parameters and test different contribution scenarios—and then give them an opportunity to talk their decision through. For many companies, the online portal to access benefit accounts is separate from all other employee and financial information. If resources are scattered around multiple websites with multiple sign-ins, think of ways to optimize and integrate the user experience for both mobile and desktop to keep HSA balances—and goals—top of mind. Even something as simple as putting all links in one place can go a long way toward keeping employees engaged. For example, “To check account balance, go here; to change your benefit elections, go here; to get help estimating costs for an upcoming procedure, go here.”
  5. Develop a campaign focused on “starting small.” Acknowledge that the first three years of having an HSA can leave your clients feeling uneasy and crunched. Set them up for success with better account configuration, by establishing definitions of success and by encouraging employers to contribute to account funding in those first years. Assurances that it’s OK to grow in confidence with HSAs over time can go a long way, especially if they come with an offer of ongoing practical guidance.

While open enrollment is “show time” for many brokers, communication about how to get the most from an HSA isn’t just for open enrollment. Your best bet is to engage employers and employees throughout the year.

Your clients trust you to help them make smart decisions about their employee benefits offerings.


For more insights about how to help Americans pay for healthcare, download our consumer report here and participate in the first annual HSA Awareness Day on Oct. 15, 2019.


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