BY MAREK CIOLKO
WHEN IT COMES to how we design and administer health benefits, there is a lot we can learn from the retail industry. Leading retail brands always find ways to reduce barriers for consumers to access goods and services. There is no reason the healthcare industry cannot and should not follow suit. And in today’s tight labor market, it’s more important than ever to help employer clients sharpen their health benefits offerings to better attract, retain and recruit talent.
Since the inception of Gravie, we’ve been diving deep to better understand the obstacles individuals face when it comes to paying for healthcare and exploring how we, as a benefits provider partnering with brokers and employers, can assist them in meaningful and helpful ways. Below are three examples of how we can learn from the innovations introduced by leading retailers and prioritize consumers in the health benefits space.
Provide convenient financing options
Buy now, pay later solutions are sweeping the industry thanks to companies like Affirm, Sezzle and Afterpay, which offer no-interest payment plans with flexible terms. An IBIS World report predicts that the buy now, pay later industry will continue to grow at 9.8% annually over the next five years, and ultimately will exceed $1 billion. These payment methods are especially popular among younger generations, including Gen Z, who tend to be more hesitant when it comes to credit cards but still prefer or need to spread out payments.
As unfortunately is often the case with healthcare, the options available for paying for out-of-pocket expenses are cumbersome, inconvenient and often expensive. For instance, with deductible health plans, the burden is on the individual to negotiate a payment plan for each bill with the respective provider and hope to be able to end up with an option that fits their budget. Often the only other alternative is to pay with a credit card, which may not be feasible to all, and often comes with a hefty interest rate cost.
If you can use buy now, pay later to purchase a pair of jeans or a cell phone, why shouldn’t you be able to do it to pay for much-needed healthcare expenses as well? It’s time for healthcare to follow the lead of retail, and offer consumers buy now, pay later solutions. An example of what this looks like is Gravie Pay, which gives members the ability to pay for out-of-pocket expenses at their own pace, right from their member portal.
For us, buy now, pay later solutions are just one more way we can improve how people purchase and access healthcare.
Make the value obvious
Salespeople across retail and other industries are readily able to explain the value of their product, and consumers purchase those products because they easily understand how they will work, and how much it will cost to use them. Shouldn’t the same be true of a health benefits plan?
If you can use buy now, pay later to purchase a pair of jeans or a cell phone, why shouldn’t you be able to do it to pay for much-needed healthcare expenses as well?
The health benefits industry has consistently failed to consider individuals as consumers or take their needs and wants into account. Today’s traditional high-deductible health plans are complex and costly. And all too often, the inherent uncertainty around the out-of-pocket cost that is built into these plans, and the associated fear of having to deal with a large expense, discourages individuals from accessing care, instead of empowering them to take care of their health. With high-deductible health plans, individuals often choose to defer medical care or skip it altogether, and most would tell you their health benefits are a safety net, rather than a value-add.
It’s time to take the confusion and unpredictability out of health benefits and focus on creating plans that clearly communicate their value to consumers – the end users of the product. This means offering individuals plans that incorporate the user-centric services, such as a monthly subscription model, they’ve grown accustomed to – with clear value and clear understanding of the cost, and what’s in it for them.
Retail is undeniably a consumer-focused industry, and it’s time we move healthcare in that direction, too. It starts with offering employees straightforward, day-one coverage
in return for the monthly premiums employers and their employees are investing in.
Look for feedback
We’ve all received emails from companies and service providers asking to review their products or take a satisfaction survey. Unfortunately, in the healthcare industry, that desire for consumer feedback is few and far-between, and even then, mostly focused on service quality rather than product design. Even more rare are providers that actually create or change their health benefits options in response to consumers’ preferences. COVID-19 and its effects fundamentally changed what employees want and need from their employers — and health benefits are no exception. Now, more than ever, our industry needs to determine what employers and employees want and identify solutions that meet those needs.
Brokers who want to retain and impress their clients need to carve out time to send surveys and ask for feedback on health benefits — and not just about the service quality, and not only during enrollment season. Learning about their consumers’ needs throughout the year provides brokers and their employer clients with the information needed to research the latest and greatest benefit options available and be as well-prepared as possible for open enrollment conversations. Whether it’s better online care, maternity programs or more modern fitness perks, taking the time to send out surveys and ask for feedback on health benefits is critical to creating health benefit plans that put consumers first and provide noticeable value.
In addition to getting direct feedback from clients, it’s also worth looking into the type of data your benefits partners are gathering to ensure you’re offering solutions that reflect those behaviors. At Gravie, by observing the patterns of medical services utilization, and noting
the barriers members faced when accessing care, we were able to identify the shortcomings of traditional deductible plan designs and create Comfort — a health plan that provides 100% coverage on most common healthcare services. Your benefit providers are already seeing which services individuals are using the most, and leaning into their data is an easy way to ensure you’re providing clients with solutions that will improve their population’s health outcomes.
Consumer-centric industries like retail can provide us with a valuable blueprint for how to re-shape the health benefits space to better serve customers. Providing convenient payment options, making the value of benefits solutions obvious and routinely asking for customer feedback are just a few retail practices we can mimic to better serve our customers. When we look at retail and embrace what is working for consumers, we can better understand our own customer expectations and drive strategic innovation that will hit the mark.
MAREK CIOLKO is co-founder and CEO at Gravie where he is responsible for delivering on the company’s mission — to improve the way people purchase and access healthcare – and leading the team to design and deliver innovative, consumer-focused health benefit solutions.
To learn more about Marek and Gravie, visit gravie.com.Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org