Medical bills: trying to understand them may be nearly as painful as the injury or illness that generated them.
This is an exaggeration, of course. But for many consumers, those bills can represent big problems, such as how to pay for their health care, how to plan for future care and how to achieve financial security in the face of rising medical costs.
Optum Bank recently conducted extensive research on what consumers have been saying about health care and health spending. Specifically, we looked at actual conversations they were having on social media. The research clarified for us what people need in the current health care environment, and how a Health Savings Account (HSA) provider can help them as well as employers, providers and health plans.
What we found through our research:
- Consumers crave health care financial security. Nearly 100 percent of conversations about health savings accounts focused on some aspect of security.
- Nearly six in 10 consumers (58 percent) struggle to pay medical bills. In addition, 47 percent talk about how their health care savings are inadequate. Another 11 percent focus on surprise medical expenses.
- Consumers don’t understand HSAs. A mere 1 percent of these social media conversations included acknowledgment that health savings accounts could offer a path to health care financial security. More often, they discussed only the short-term benefits.
- Consumers expect simplicity and transparency. Instead of getting problems resolved quickly and easily, consumers describe negative experiences with their HSA provider’s customer service representatives. They bemoan long transfer wait times and don’t understand fees.
- Digital engagement in other areas raises expectations. As an example, consumers readily use their mobile devices for daily banking. 90 percent of mobile banking customers prefer that method over visiting a branch in person, one study showed. HSA providers should be offering a product that is similarly streamlined and accessible.
- The payment experience is important, and each generation demands different options. Millennials are far more likely to use mobile wallets and payment apps; GenXers make more use of credit cards. In fact, Millennials and GenXers make up nearly half the population enrolled in HSA plans.
- A better experience outweighs privacy. Research shows that 83 percent of consumers would share their personal data online if it leads to a better experience.
A well-managed HSA can provide clear benefits for consumers – though they need guidance to understand how to maximize those benefits. The vast majority have no idea how much to save in the long run or even what a regular savings rate should be for their needs.
But let’s return to the first word in HSA: health. People making decisions about their health insurance are consumers of health care first and consumers of financial services second. The services need to become a part of their day-to-day life. It is not as simple as just getting them to open an HSA.
Moreover, the product must be tailored to its customers: HSA providers need to be able to treat them as individuals who vary greatly in life stage, health state, lifestyle, spending decisions, risk personality and other factors. HSA providers can’t do that if they don’t have the ability to really know their customers.
In today’s world, personal health care and finances are intimately linked. Long-term health care security is an important part of long-term financial security. Companies that want to help their employees reach their health and financial planning goals should look for these five characteristics in an HSA provider:
- Customer experience. Employees should have an easy, convenient way to make payments, deposit checks and invest, making use of the latest digital and mobile technologies.
- Tight integration. The HSA’s banking platform should make it simple for employees to go back and forth between their health plan and health savings account.
- Deep customer knowledge. A good HSA uses analytics to understand its clients and their health and financial decision-making stage. Then, it can deliver relevant messaging and education at the right time.
- Health care experience and an understanding of its challenges. With an HSA provider that integrates health care and financial tools, customers can become more educated about their health and make smarter health care decisions.
- Track record of success. The right HSA provider has extensive experience in the field, with operational excellence, transactional expertise and the ability to tailor its health accounts to your employee population.
For more Optum Bank research findings and the importance of integrating health care and finances, see our white paper, The Marriage of Health and Money – and How to Make It Last.
About the Author:
Matt Renfro, Chief Innovation and Product Officer of Optum Financial Services. In this capacity, his primary responsibilities include product management, strategy and innovation of Optum Bank consumer accounts and Optum Bank Payment Solutions.
Prior to joining Optum, Matt worked for Fidelity Investments, supporting institutional clients in relationship management, product and operations. Matt has over 8 years of financial services experience and graduated from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.