The evolution of consumer-driven health care

By Kathryn Mayer


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Benefits Selling, we decided to pick 10 things that have really influenced and changed the benefits industry during the past decade.

We knew consumer-driven health care had to be on the list—its rising popularity has been a true thing to watch in the last decade. Employers and employees both have been embraced the concept. Health saving accounts assets set new records each year. Some brokers specialize in that business alone. Incentive and wellness programs are all the rage.

Though there’s no denying its growing popularity, there’s still a lot of work to be done. A new report from Aflac sheds light on what consumers really think about consumer-driven plans, and unfortunately the reaction sounds like one big, collective “huh?”

Most workers (72 percent) have never heard the term “consumer-driven health care.” More than half (54 percent) would prefer not to have greater control over their insurance options because they don’t have the time or knowledge to effectively manage it. Others expressed their confusion over HSAs, HRAs and FSAs.

“It may be referred to as ‘consumer-driven health care,’ but in actuality, consumers aren’t the ones driving these changes, so it’s no surprise that many feel unprepared,” said Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac. “The bottom line is if consumers aren’t educated about the full scope of their options, they risk making costly mistakes without a financial back-up plan.”

Though the concept has brought us HSAs, HRAs and FSAs — which have garnered mostly all praise from industry insiders, its most important implication is simply what it sounds like — getting consumers involved in their own health care. But, as Aflac’s survey reveals, consumers need help — and employers and brokers both need to step up in education efforts.

We all know consumers need to be involved more in their health care — they need to be informed, to be proactive, to make smart and healthy choices, and to be cost-conscious. It’s such a simple and effective idea that it’s fairly ridiculous it wasn’t common practice even a decade ago. But consumer-driven health care also shouldn’t mean that employers, insurers and brokers should leave the game, either — especially as health reform changes the landscape even more.

“Consumerism must play a vital role going forward if we are to find a path toward affordable, effective and accessible health care for those who desire and require it,” Bart Halling, vice president of customer solutions for UMR, the third-party unit of UnitedHealthCare, told me last week in an interview about the growth of consumer-driven health care.

“Although we have seen tremendous expansion in consumerism, the core challenge remains—helping us all as individuals understand that better health is its own invaluable currency and that simple financial rewards can only play the role of initial ignition,” he said.

Hopefully, that’s something that will be addressed soon—and maybe before we hit another decade.