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Consumer-driven health plans confuse their consumers

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Though enrollment in consumer-driven health plans continues to rise, most employees don't understand the health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, or flexible spending accounts linked to the plans, according to a new report.

The Acclaris Consumer Education Survey Report released Wednesday by technology provider Acclaris, a Towers Watson & Co. unit, said 64.5% of health industry professionals rated consumers' knowledge of HSAs and HRAs as mediocre, and 28.2% rated their knowledge as poor.

Forty percent of health professionals said HSAs are the most difficult for consumers to understand, followed by HRAs at 27.1%, Acclaris said in the report.

According to the survey, 63.1% of respondents said lack of education was the biggest hurdle to adoption of consumer-driven health accounts, while 19.5% said awareness is the greatest challenge.

Acclaris highlighted several gaps in knowledge surrounding consumer-driven health plans. Thirty-two percent of health professionals said consumers don't know how an HSA can and should be used, 19.8% said consumers don't understand which expenses are reimbursable, and 18.1% said they didn't know when to use health care accounts.

“Consumers are still extremely confused about consumer-directed health plan options and when/how to best use the funds in those accounts, especially when it comes to HSAs. The call for improved consumer education is clear,” Acclaris CEO Dean Mason said in the statement.

Educating employees

Acclaris said 53.1% of surveyed health professionals believe employers are responsible for educating employees about consumer-directed health accounts.

Twenty-six percent of respondents preferred email as the most effective channel for education consumers, while social media was voted least effective, Acclaris said.

According to the survey, 47.4% of respondents said employees need information at all points of the benefits process, while 21.2% said employees need information continuously throughout the year. Only 7.1% percent said information should be limited to the enrollment period.

Acclaris conducted the survey of more than 300 health industry professionals from June to July.