Easing the Shift to CDH Plans

By Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications Jun 9, 2009

More companies are seeking to keep their health plan budgets under control by moving to a consumer-driven health (CDH) care model. However, if not properly communicated, moving employees to a CDH plan can be perceived as no more than a massive cost-shift and can damage morale and productivity. But if done the right way, the move can engage employees, motivate them toward better health, help them understand their employer’s investment in benefits and save the company money. CDH plans can be a shining star in a rough economy. Just keep the focus where it should be: on employees and their health needs.

Below are tips for designing, launching, enrolling and supporting a CDH care model.

Plan Design

  • Demographics. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Match your plan to the demographics and health needs of your employees and their families.
  • HSAs vs. HRAs. While health savings accounts (HSAs), which are funded by employees or employers or both, have received a big push over the past few years, they can be a harsh reality for low-income employees, especially those with families who are subject to the aggregate deductible and those on expensive maintenance medications, Benz says. An employer-funded health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) might be a better choice to get employees thinking about their expenses without exposing them to such high deductibles or the full out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs. They can be a better choice for the company, as employer-contributions don’t walk out the door when employees leave.
  • Preventive care. Whatever the type of CDH plan chosen, a priority should be placed on generous coverage for preventive care to be consistent with an employer's focus on prevention as a means of helping employees gain and maintain better health and improving productivity.
  • Employer contribution. Including an employer contribution with HSAs demonstrates the company’s commitment to remaining engaged in their employees’ health care, even while the company saves on health care costs as a result of moving from a traditional health benefits to a CDH care model.
  • HMO or no? There’s no shame in keeping health maintenance organizations (HMOs) around as a plan option. HMOs are a great fit for many families. While CDH care purists will say they shield employees too much from the true cost of health care, access to an HMO might be the key to keeping some of your employees healthy and on the job.

Launch and Enrollment

  • Communication. Communication is critical to launching a CDH care model and getting employees to enroll, especially when traditional options are still on the table. To avoid stumbling, focus less on the big picture and more on explaining thoroughly what the new plan means for employees and their families. Rather than mention the “millions of dollars” spent on health care, explain the company’s investment in health care and the dollars added to each employee’s salary in the form of medical benefits. Provide examples and simple profiles to show how the plans work and demonstrate their value. In-person or virtual meetings are helpful. Don’t just pile on the print materials and expect employees to dig through it all.
  • Access. Employee spouses and/or families are often the health care decision-makers. Be sure to get the information they need to them in a form they can access. Don’t keep valuable benefits information locked up behind a hard-to-access firewall.

Ongoing Support

  • Remind and promote. Reject the “if we build it, they will come” mindset. Employees and their families must be reminded constantly about what they need to do, how to manage their accounts, and the available resources and why they should use them. Provide easy-to-use tips and checklists so employees know how to take that next step. Promoting key resources like personal health advisers and nurse lines, online tools and preventive care can make a big difference.
  • Simplify. Simplify overlapping programs, such as preventive care, health coaches, and disease management, and keep communication simple and action-oriented.
  • Monitor. Keep an eye on vendors for their claims processing and customer service. Nothing can derail a CDH plan faster than major complaints about claims being paid incorrectly or frustrations over doctors’ bills.

Jennifer Benz is the founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, a benefits communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns for employers.

Related SHRM Video:

Communicating About Health Care Consumerism, SHRM Multimedia, August 2008

Related SHRM Articles:

Related SHRM Webcast:

Best Practices in Benefits Communication: A Year-Round Effort, October 2011

Consumer-Directed Health Plans: Building Smart Health Plans from the Ground Up, August 2011

Quick Link:

SHRM Online Benefits Discipline

Sign up for SHRM’s free Compensation & Benefits e-newsletter


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

HR Professional Development Education in a City Near You

SHRM Seminars are coming to cities across the US this fall.

Find a Seminar


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect