Every day Google Alerts sends several articles about the unsustainable increases in group health insurance costs.  The benefits industry is scrambling to find a solution, including offering more plans with higher deductibles and employer-sponsored health reimbursement accounts—which would force employees to identify and purchase their own coverage on an individual basis.  And while many are quick to blame corporate America, the hard truth is that employers are already spending $1.1 trillion in health insurance costs.  That’s more than three times the $327 billion they pay in income taxes.

One idea that keeps coming to the surface in the benefit world is “Employee Education.”  The academics and benefit providers have figured out that people really don’t understand how to select and use their benefits—especially health insurance.  PlanSponsor published an article on July 25, 2019 on this very issue, stating that “better education can lead employees to use benefits correctly and become healthier.”  We’re seeing the same message from the multitude of financial wellness platforms that provide online videos and workshops to help employees get their finances organized.

Here’s the problem: Employee Education doesn’t work.  Presentations, videos, and online tools can be helpful, but people need specific advice and ongoing coaching to really get their arms around the complex issues that employee benefits are designed to address.  Health care (like retirement planning) is extremely hard to navigate and getting generalized education (which is what we’ve been doing for years) does not move the needle.

Employees need a coach who will review their personal situation and help them: 1) Select the right benefit plan and 2) Use the plan to its full potential and 3) Feel confident and secure with their use of the plan.  Each employee’s needs, circumstances, preferences, family, budget, and location (among other things) need to be considered. Having a human being take the time to assist employees with this and provide ongoing coaching makes a massive difference.

Technology and general education will always remain important components of benefits.  Adding a human-centered approach that provides personalized advice to each employee based on their particular circumstances is the difference between taking care of employees and repackaging the same failed strategies we’ve been pursuing for decades.  That’s the difference between Employee Education and Employee Care.