July 18, 2023
Vlad Gyster
Vlad Gyster

Get Ahead Of HSA And FSA Confusion Before Open Enrollment

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The Health Savings Account (HSA) and Flexible Spending Account (FSA) are two of the most misunderstood benefits by employees. That’s problematic because benefit teams often use these benefits to take the sting out of plan changes meant to drive healthcare consumerism and tie well-being actions in with the medical plan. When employees don’t understand their HSAs and FSAs, they don’t correctly value their plan, misunderstand well-being incentives, and generate complaints. 

Many benefit teams depend on Open Enrollment communications to educate their employees about the HSA and FSA. We haven’t seen this work well for three reasons:

  1. During Open Enrollment, employees have to process a lot of information in a very short period of time.  
  2. Employees don’t have the bandwidth to learn and understand complex concepts. 
  3. The benefits team doesn’t have the capacity to teach them.  

This article lays out five steps you can take to get in front of the confusion around HSAs and FSAs and dramatically cut back on employee noise during your next Open Enrollment: 

  1. Start education at least one month before Open Enrollment
  2. Make sure you have an effective way to reach employees
  3. Teach in bite-sized pieces
  4. Tell a story 
  5. Know your audience

🗓️ Start at least a month early

If you wait until Open Enrollment to teach employees about HSA and FSAs, you’re already too late. With information-heavy concepts, the best approach is to start early. We recommend sending your first communications about HSAs and FSAs at least a month before OE. That way, employees have the bandwidth to absorb complex concepts before Open Enrollment begins. And you’ll have a chance to answer questions before the craziness starts.

📱Make sure you can reach employees 

If your communications aren’t actually seen by employees, they’re not going to be effective. In larger organizations with employees spread across multiple locations, reaching employees can be tricky because the communication infrastructure to directly message field employees is unreliable or doesn't exist at all. 

In those cases, benefits education often passes through multiple stakeholders before employees see it. For example, managers are often asked to share information with employees during shift meetings, yet our data shows that this information often falls through the cracks. Distributing information in this way is very unreliable.

You’ll want to take steps to be sure that any message you send about HSAs and FSAs is actually seen by employees without relying on someone else. For many organizations, that might involve a little bit of creativity, like putting signs inside bathroom stalls or on TV screens placed throughout the workplace. If you do have to rely on managers, encourage them to distribute QR codes linking to information, or ask them to collect phone numbers and personal emails, so you can track engagement.

Airbo helps avoid a “telephone game” problem by allowing you to communicate benefits information directly to employees via email, text, or QR codes. The Airbo dashboard shows you exactly how people are interacting with your content so you can improve, add, edit, and refine campaigns as you go. It can also help make manager engagement transparent, by identifying which managers are promoting benefits education, and which aren’t. This creates the opportunity to direct resources toward one-on-one manager outreach that improves manager engagement in benefits education. 

🧀 Teach in bite-sized pieces

If your goal is to have your employees understand HSAs and FSAs and take action to use them, then you need to think beyond the PDF. Very few people are willing and able to read and understand a long document. This is especially true if you have a mobile workforce or a significant non-native-English-speaking population.

The benefits teams we work with at Airbo have seen dramatically better results by breaking educational  content down into pieces that feel like consumer media and then sending sequences that educate employees on one point at a time.

HSAs and FSAs often get lumped together, but they’re two very different things. We recommend separating them and creating a series of simple messages, each focused on a single point about either HSAs or FSAs. That can look like a sequence of short emails or text messages.

After running hundreds of campaigns, we’ve learned that bite-sized pieces of information work. It’s the main premise of our product.

Airbo Campaigns are designed to cover a single subject, broken out into Tiles, which resemble an Instagram post and can be shared easily with employees. Aside from being fun-looking and easy to use, the step-by-step process of completing a Tile encourages engagement. You can learn information in a Tile in less than a minute. Then it’s on to the next bite of information. 

Here is an example of how we’ve broken out a complex topic into bite-size pieces to teach employees about their Health Savings Account. 

health saving account app example

🧙 Tell a story

For your HSA/FSA communication effort to be a success, employees have to fully understand the details. But rather than merely telling employees about the specifics, you can show them by sharing a story. Stories don’t have to be long, or even true. They just need to make it very clear how FSAs and HSAs are useful in real-life situations.

Try something like this:

Meet Tim. He has a High Deductible Health Plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA). If Tim completes annual wellness actions, like getting his biometrics and annual physical, his employer will contribute $2,000 to the HSA. Tim can also contribute additional money from his paycheck tax-free towards the HSA. 

Tim got hurt snowboarding and had to visit the emergency room for X-rays and a cast. His bill was $5,000 and consumed his full deductible, which means he had to pay the entire cost.

Tim did not complete the wellness actions, so he did not receive the $2,000 contribution. He also didn’t understand how the HSA worked, so he didn’t add any contributions. He had to pay the $5,000 bill completely out of pocket. He could’ve used that $2,000, plus any money he voluntarily added to his HSA (that would have been tax-free!), to reduce that $5,000 bill by a lot. 

Tim now understands how the HSA could have helped him, so he started contributing to his HSA (contributions can be updated at any time!), and Tim is going to complete his wellness actions by the deadline to receive the $2,000 contribution. 

A story helps contextualize a complex topic. From Tim’s story, employees can see how the HSA would have helped him in this scenario, realize that they should take the wellness actions, and understand how contributing to an HSA saves them money. 

Airbo Campaigns are a great way to share stories with employees. A story like Tim’s might get put into a five-Tile campaign that breaks the topic into smaller pieces, each teaching a key point about HSAs and reinforcing understanding with a question. 

🏟️ Know your audience

Different employee populations have different needs and ways of consuming information. It’s very important to keep this in mind when you communicate about HSAs and FSAs, or any benefits-related topic.

Think through how, where, and when employees synthesize information. Are they at desks all day? Are they on the move? In the field? Is English a second language for them? 

The answers to those questions should impact how you communicate about benefits. Don’t send long emails to people who don’t sit in front of a monitor with their email open all day. Don’t use dense, technical language with people who are still learning English. Look at the information from the point of view of the recipient, and then decide what you’ll say and how you’ll deliver the message. 

One technique we’ve seen work well is creating a few characters that represent your workforce. As you write your communications, visit these characters and do a gut check: Would this person understand this content? 

Here are some sample personas for a manufacturing organization: 

  • Salesperson Gladys - 43 years old, native speaker, used health plan last year for surgery. On the road and has access to a computer. 
  • Line Employee Tim - 25 years old, native Spanish speaker, doesn’t go to the doctor. Doesn’t have access to a computer at work. Uses a smartphone as his main source of internet access. 

Bonus tip! Add in how these personas would receive the communications to help think through how you would reach them. 

🏫 Keep going after enrollment

Getting employees set up with HSAs and FSAs during open enrollment is a win, but it’s still just the beginning. To realize the full benefit, they have to use them. That means the education can’t stop. Keep the drumbeat going with bite-sized information that teaches employees how to fund and use their HSAs and FSAs. It’s common for people to forget or misunderstand expenses they can use the accounts for or even forget they have one at all. Stay on it. 

At Airbo, we like to do a campaign when the plan year starts to tell employees the actions they need to take to set up their accounts, add contributions to the HSA, and start using them to drive wellness actions and healthcare consumerism. 

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