In the face of economic uncertainty, employees are being forced to make difficult choices when it comes to how they spend their money. At times, those cost-cutting efforts can mean gambling with their health.
In a recent survey conducted by employee benefits platform Elevate, 65% of employee respondents are looking to cut discretionary spending to focus on necessities. For many, healthcare has been the easiest expense to trim — 28% of employees reported putting off a screening or wellness check to save money and 14% reported postponing a necessary medical procedure or delaying getting a prescription filled.
"It's hard to blame people," says Brian Cosgray, co-founder of Elevate. "Everyone has basically had a whole month's paycheck disappear due to inflation. The cost of everything seems to be rising much faster than wages. Are people making trade offs that affect their healthcare? And if so, how can we help them?"
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For Cosgray, helping those workers means providing clearer communications that can empower employees to better utilize their available benefits — because it's clear they're craving both financial and personal health. Eighty percent of survey respondents believe benefits support their financial security, and 78% rank being prepared for out-of-pocket healthcare costs as important or most important to them. And yet, only 40% of employees have an HSA or an FSA, the survey found.
"The menu of benefits has never been a challenge for employers — the challenge is getting employees to take advantage of them," Cosgray says. "Employees know what's offered but their challenge is going back, remembering and then making use of it."
That's where Elevate steps in. The tech-driven platform partners with companies to make employees' benefits and healthcare easy to use. An employee can access their personal information via an online platform or mobile app, where they also have access to a round-the-clock chatbot to guide them through utilization queries; resources offer to easy-to-digest language that explains what benefits are available, how to utilize them, and what the real-world impact is. For example, a $100 copay wouldn't be as alarming if employees knew their well-funded HSA or FSA was available to help cover the cost.
"I can't make more money appear, but what we can do is use modern technology to look at all of those friction points in that journey for the employee in accessing those benefits and try to take as many of those — if not all of them — out of the workflow," Cosgray says. "Find a couple extra quarters in the couch cushions, if you will."
Elevate eliminates the need to use multiple cards to access benefit dollars, consolidating it to a single card that is compatible with Apple and Samsung Pay. The platform also works with HR departments to offer an instant reimbursement process for employees who file health insurance claims but need that money back quicker than companies can usually process it on their own.
"Even if you don't have your [insurance] card with you, you can take a picture of the receipt with your phone, we process it instantly and then we can get that money back to you instantly," Cosgray says. "We're also the first ones to use Venmo, PayPal, and push to debit. Our goal is that by the time you leave the parking lot at the medical office building, those dollars are back in your bank account in case you need them to buy groceries that same day."
Putting off vital care can harm more than just the employee. An unhealthy workforce is a financial burden on companies. Not only can workers end up spending more in insurance claims, but productivity takes a hit when the workforce is struggling with their health.
"There's always been a direct correlation between how much your premiums go up," Cosgray says. "It's why employers traditionally have offered so many different types of incentives like free gym memberships. But again, you've gotta make it easy to use for people to take advantage of to reduce financial stress. Prevention is worth a pound of cure."