Optimism, effort needed for consumerism to workNews added by Benefits Pro on July 17, 2014

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Joined: September 07, 2011

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By Kathryn Mayer

CHICAGO — Being an advocate of consumerism in the health care industry is like being a Cubs fan in Chicago.

You’ve got to have hope, and you’ve got to have patience. Even when evidence — such as rising obesity rates, crippling health care costs and consumer confusion — points to the contrary.

That was the word from Ann Mond Johnson, chair of benefits platform ConnectedHealth, during a keynote address Wednesday at the Private Health Care Exchanges Conference in Chicago, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

“We talk about [consumerism] over and over and over, and nothing seems to happen with it,” she said. “But you’ve got to keep being optimistic.”

And, perhaps more importantly, brokers, benefits managers and others in the health care industry have to work hard at achieving it.

“We’re seeing signs that it’s happening,” Johnson said. Plus, consumers want it.

“The trends we’re finally seeing are colliding with our expectations,” she said.

Among them? Value-based purchasing, the popularity of wearables and fitness trackers, the increasing importance of fitness apps and mobile devices, and the fact that more consumers are spending dollars on looking good and feeling better. And there’s the knowledge that physical health is just one component of overall well-being.

“We’re realizing that stress can make us sick … and employers should work on addressing that problem,” she said. Employers should also be attentive to employees’ financial problems and concerns, which take a toll on workers and productivity.

“Other aspects affect our health,” Johnson said.

Having information on the growing trends can help those in the industry, she explained.

If transparency and convenience, for example, are what consumers want (in the form of cost information, fitness data on apps and social media pages), then the industry should give it to them, she said.

There should also be a renewed focus on financials, Johnson said. In the coming years, she predicted, “health care decisions will be recast as financial decisions. You can explain, for example, that losing weight today will help you save money 20 years from now.”

“We have the ability to help people make decisions and provide them context,” she added. “If we want [consumers] to be accountable for [their health], then we have to make them aware.”

One key way to do this, she said, is to simplify the process: Explain health insurance plans, explain products—and in simple English, without using industry jargon.

“Health insurance,” she said, “may be boring, but it doesn’t have to be incomprehensible.”

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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