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Many Employees Still Unaware of Free Preventive Care Benefits

Original post benefitspro.com

Even employees covered by an employer-sponsored health plan remain confused about the benefits that are free of charge to them under health care reform law. But employers say that they often don’t have the resources or effective communications tools to fully explain these benefits to the workforce.

This finding emerged from a small sample study by the Midwest Business Group  on Health, which surveyed 53 workplaces, more than half of which had 5,000 or more employees in their plans.

The survey indicated that progress is being made: 62 percent said they were aware of all the free services, which include vaccinations, maternity and pregnancy related services, pediatric services and others. But another 36 percent admitted they weren’t aware of the full spectrum of these free benefits. (Just 2 percent pleaded complete ignorance of the benefits.)

The survey said that larger employers that often use participation incentives to increase benefits usage had higher rates of preventive service use  compared to small- to mid-sized employers, with larger ones reporting about 60 percent participation and small-to-mid-sized around 50 percent. Overall, 53 percent said they offer such incentives.

“In addition,” the report said, “outside of the flu vaccination, survey respondents indicated they are not promoting important adult vaccinations, and for those that do, employee use is low.”

Digging deeper into the benefits available to workers, the study found that 58 percent of respondents offered vaccines only to those covered and their dependents. A small number — 42 percent — included retirees in the coverage.

The flu vaccine was far and away the most prevalent benefit for employers with onsite or near-site clinics, offered by 70 percent. Vaccinations for hepatitis B were the second most common, at 41 percent, with hepatitis A found in 39 percent of plans. Vaccinations for diseases such as HPV, shingles, pneumonia, measles and others were in the 27 percent to 37 percent range. Nearly half of plans (43 percent) covered all vaccinations costs.

Increasingly, larger employers, and even some with fewer employees, are turning to onsite service centers to encourage greater use of free preventive benefits. Nearly half reported having an onsite clinic, 21 percent said they use a near-site clinic, and 7 percent reported using a mobile van.

While overall, employers felt their benefits communications strategies were working fairly well, a major area where they are not finding success is in encouraging employees to choose a specific location to receive vaccines. This indicates that the employer-led national effort to attempt to steer workers to centers of excellence, or at least of cost efficiency, is not yet working well.

The MBGH has created a preventive benefits “toolkit” designed to help employers spread the word about free benefits and increase participation in them.

“Employers are the primary purchasers of health care for employees and families, so it’s important that these benefits are effectively understood and appropriately used,” said Larry Boress, MBGH president and CEO. “Otherwise, consumer engagement levels suffer, resulting in millions of benefit dollars being wasted each year. Many employers don’t know where to start or how to effectively communicate available preventive care benefits to their covered population. That’s why we’re launching an employer toolkit to help employers do a more effective job.”