Every business wants to improve its bottom line and maintain a competitive edge. Offering generous compensation packages is a way to retain quality employees, but increasing costs may make this difficult. Employees want a health plan that fits their needs — not one that costs them more out of pocket than they can afford.

The health care economic landscape is changing rapidly; now is the time to survey that landscape and see if there is a better fit out there for your business and your employees. Becoming your own “health plan finder” is the best way to negotiate the ever-shifting hills and valleys — and the best way to avoid pitfalls.

When Times Are Good

If things are going well and you don’t think it’s a good time to rock the compensation boat, think again: Bonuses and perks are not the only ways to reward employees for helping the business succeed. Sweetening the benefits package by adding more generous benefits or more options for benefit plans is a good way to demonstrate your appreciation. Maybe you plan to make many new hires, or you’ve acquired a new business. You can use the increased number of covered lives as leverage in negotiations for a group health plan.

When Times Are Bad

Perhaps you’ve had an off year and need to rein in expenses without cutting salaries. As health insurance comprises a sizable portion of employee compensation packages, you might want to hunt for plans that can help you meet your goals. During lean years, price-competitive health plans are more important than ever. Maybe you need only to avoid losing valued employees to the competition. You’re in luck here, too: Survey data suggest that employees who highly value their benefits packages are less likely to change jobs.

Beyond the Numbers

You can’t argue with the bottom line, but there are several additional factors to consider. It’s a good idea to look at available health plan offerings and ask several questions before choosing what’s best for your business:

  • Does the plan offer coverage for nonemergency services outside of a network? In general, employees prefer flexibility and choice when it comes to doctors; on the other hand, plans that allow out-of-network referrals tend to be more expensive, and the more affordable plans involve more tightly constrained networks. In some communities, employees do not consider such constraints a burden. The more affordable closed-network plans, then, may be worth investigating.
  • How many levels of benefits does the plan offer? Employees appreciate having choices within health plans. Preferred-provider organizations and point-of-service plans offer several tiers of coverage that provide employees with a variety of choices and price points.
  • What about deductibles? Some employees may prefer more traditional low deductible plans, while others will be lured in by the prospect of lower premiums with a consumer-driven health plan (CDHP.) It’s always a good idea to open a dialogue with your employees and gauge their interest in high-deductible plans.

The Extra Mile

Good customer experience is also important to employees while they’re choosing a health plan. When you are playing the role of health plan finder, consider these questions:

  • Does the plan offer a patient portal? Patient portals can help securely link employees with their doctors and provide a number of other value-adding functionalities. Some plans offer telemedicine solutions, where employees can see a doctor on their laptops or phones.
  • Does the plan provide tools to help plan members make good health choices? Some health plan websites offer a wide range of health and wellness tools. Many even provide financial incentives for joining health clubs.
  • Is the plan known for answering inquiries quickly and efficiently? In an age when automated customer-service voice mail trees are the subject of satire in television commercials, we know that consumers appreciate quick and easy contact with their health plans.
  • Is the plan website intuitive and easy to navigate? Today, when so much of life is transacted through a laptop or tablet, the user experience at a plan website can make all the difference for employee satisfaction. It’s thus well worth your time to take a test drive with plan administrators.

The Final Analysis

At the end of the day, the cost of your business health plan is crucial, and so is employee satisfaction. When finding a health plan — or when renegotiating with your current plan — it makes good business sense to look beyond the numbers at the employee experience and at the extras that a health plan provides.

David E. Williams is president of Health Business Group, a strategy consulting firm serving clients in technology-enabled health care services, pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices and software. He is frequently quoted in the media on the business of health care and is the author of the Health Business Blog. David sits on the board of both private health care companies and nonprofits.