According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 41 percent of adults in the United States delayed or avoided medical care, including urgent or emergency care as well as routine care, due to concerns about COVID-19. Possible downstream effects include increased morbidity and mortality for people with chronic and acute health conditions and eventual higher healthcare costs.
Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) can help worksite employers remind employees about the importance of routine and preventive care, including dental care (delayed by nearly half of adults in 2020). A clear, simple communication strategy can help: It should include reassurance about the safety of healthcare settings, steps to re-enter care, what to expect at the doctor’s or dentist’s office (temperature checks, required masks, and so forth), and reminders about the importance of regular screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Information about telemedicine and virtual care benefits helps to ensure that employees who continue to have concerns about in-person visits also can access routine care. These communications may provide employees with a higher level of comfort about returning to healthcare, which will benefit both employees’ health and the financial performance of the health plan.
PEOs also should maximize other opportunities to assist worksite employers with communications such as re-introducing the employee assistance program or a health advocate program. Employers who reached out in the past year to remind employees of the convenience of certain benefits saw an increase in employee engagement in those benefits.
PEOs have an extraordinary opportunity to extend beyond traditional services and demonstrate value. Help employers prepare to listen to employee concerns and formulate a strategy to respond to their questions. Draft FAQ documents to support employers’ HR staff or managers. Whatever the topic being communicated to employees, lead with empathy. These are sensitive topics; simplifying the message, maintaining a warm tone, and avoiding judgement is crucial.
It’s also important that PEOs embrace consumerism and make it infectious for their worksite employers. There are an incredible number of solutions in the market today. PEOs also can show value by highlighting best-in-class tools and resources. For example, more employers are offering high-deductible health plans (HDHPs): The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 28 percent of employers offer some form of HDHP, often paired with an HRA; enrollment in HDHPs has increased over the past decade, from 20 percent of covered workers in 2014 to 30 percent in 2019.
Clear, accurate education around HDHPs and engaging employees as consumers is key. HSA-eligible plans cost on average about 20 percent less than a traditional PPO. This can translate into significantly lower paycheck deductions along with the opportunity for tax-advantaged savings, both of which can help offset the higher deductible. A multi-touch communication strategy that illustrates the advantages of HDHPs during the enrollment process help increase participation. Enhancing worksite employers’ consumer strategy helps drive lower costs for the employer and the PEO master health plan.
These and many other program options once were marketed to worksite employers and employees via client site visits, live presentations, and onsite benefit fairs. In 2020, when so much work and interaction moved online, so did these events, becoming virtual benefits fairs. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), virtual benefit fairs give more people access to helpful information in a safe, remote environment. Further, they are not limited to a specific day and time but can be used for the entire open enrollment period or maintained throughout the year. This allows new hires of PEO clients the same experience, resulting in better participation in benefits programs.
Further, notes the SHRM article, virtual benefit fairs provide an opportunity for creativity, a chance to do something different or try something new. They also provide an opportunity for consistency: As this Mercer infographic notes, a self-paced, virtual benefits fair experience centralizes company messaging and important resources.
Through virtual benefits fairs, employees can access all benefits information any time, on any device. Coupled with a thoughtful, clear communication campaign on the importance of routine and preventive care, PEOs can help worksite employers motivate employees to re-engage with their healthcare, ultimately lowering costs and improving outcomes.
 Czeisler MÉ, Marynak K, Clarke KE, et al. Delay or Avoidance of Medical Care Because of COVID-19–Related Concerns — United States, June 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1250–1257. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6936a4external icon
 Kranz AM, Gahlon G, Dick AW, Stein BD. Characteristics of US Adults Delaying Dental Care Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. JDR Clinical & Translational Research. 2021;6(1):8-14. doi:10.1177/2380084420962778