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why can’t electing benefits be like shopping on amazon?

October 20, 2010

in annual enrollment,health communication

when it comes to annual enrollment, i’m both a producer and a consumer. i help my clients think through how to best deliver information and support tools to make benefits elections less of a land mine and chore.  then i come home to pick my benefits. our materials are good, and i’ll tell you there’s still too much to read. too much legalese. too much spin. and no one to talk with except this 1-800 number.

to address annual enrollment woes, we need to dig into what’s so annoying about it (it’s hard) and acknowledge that today’s materials and in-person meetings aren’t cutting it. this is where my “a girl can dream” wish list comes in, with improvements i want not only at my husband’s company but everywhere. let’s put an end to all the data about my health and my health usage sitting idly by. i want to see that data knit together to give me a personalized experience that’ll help me make better decisions. i want my enrollment experience to be like shopping on amazon.

how come my husband’s benefits enrollment site doesn’t recognize us like amazon does? after all, we have a pretty intimate relationship. it knows when we go to the doctor and for what. it could know our entire health history and habits, if health risk assessment data and wellness program participation were integrated with the enrollment system. why doesn’t it, upon logging on, read:

“hey, rob! long time no see, buddy. how ya been? how are those two kids and that fine wife of yours? i see the girls are getting a bit older—orthodontia seem like a possibility? too bad, man. i feel for ya. braces are a money-sucking you-know-what. maybe you should consider X dental plan or putting away $X,XXX in the health care FSA. both will help you cover those costs with a little less pain. (oh, not for the girls. my bad.) and what about you, rob? i see you’re taking X meds. have you checked out X as an alternative? it’s efficacy level is the same and it’s $XX.XX cheaper per script! while we’re talking, have you signed up for our fitness program? exercise can make it possible for you to give up that prescription altogether. plus, we discount the fitness program by XX% for you and your wife. oh, and just one more thing. your wife has a big birthday coming up. she said to buy her a present.”

you get the gist.

some day, i know. in the meantime, what’s your annual enrollment reality? what’s the good, the bad and the ugly of it? let me know in the comments.


Leave a Comment

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

autom October 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

“..if health risk assessment data and wellness program participation were integrated with the enrollment system” – what a great scenario to work towards. gr8 post f – a


fran October 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

thanks, autom. it”ll take some heavy lifting, but it’s going to happen. f


Carol Harnett October 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

I LOVE this post!

Spot-on, creative and fun to read.

And, this could actually be done.

Great job!


fran October 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm

carol, thanks so much! as a writer, you know when you’re on a roll. and yes, it could be done. it should be done.



Carol Harnett October 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Yes, I do know, Fran. And you hit this one out of the ballpark.

Now, to follow up. Let the naysayers check in. We respect their concerns.

But, as I’ve said to every attorney with whom I’ve ever worked, you’re allowed to say, “Yes, but.” You are not allowed to say, “No.”

Keep it up!


Elizabeth October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Totally agree with you Fran. Online retailers like Amazon and QVC (occassional guilty pleasure) make buying a breeze. Surely similar technology could be used for benefits.


fran October 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

i think so. david raises some challenges below, which, i think, are all surmountable. and in the interest of helping employees become that much-desired “health care consumer,” they need to be overcome.



David Janus October 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Interesting post, Fran.

Not to be a spoilsport or anything, but let me mention a few practical challenges that could arise:

1. Privacy – assuming that the employer is maintaining the enrollment site, then I as an employee might be uncomfortable with the idea that my employer could somehow learn more about my or my family’s health issues than I want the employer to know.

2. Creepiness factor – related, I suppose, to number 1, but a bit different. Yes, I often like it when Amazon or other sites make suggestions based on my past choices but, then again, sometimes people like to feel that their own information is, well, their own. And health data is a lot more sensitive than one’s tastes in fiction or music.

3. Implementation – even if 1 and 2 were judged to be no big deal, successfully integrating the necessary data would not necessarily be so easy.

Bottom line for me is that it’s a pretty interesting idea but it would take some time to figure out how exactly to make it work.


fran October 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm

hey, david. i’m good with pushback.

1. you’re right. this sort of solution does require a third-party administrator. the employer can help write the script (or customize an off-the-shelf product) to better reflect their culture. only context communication consulting gets away with the language i used.

2. i think concern will go down as value goes up. if my data’s being used to truly help me and make my life easier, i’m good with that. there’s lots to prove this is the case (think: facebook). but to your point, what’s the source of the information and how it’s being used needs to be included in this solution.

3. integration is the major barrier. it requires employers having everything with one provider or providers having solutions that are flexible enough to accommodate additional feeds. i think we’ll get there, as employers push for more ways to improve health and reduce costs.



Natasha October 21, 2010 at 6:14 am

I love it! I have the same struggle every annual enrollment. I am a consumer for both my benefits and my husbands but also help “put the spin” on how our benefits work here. It really would become more of the personalizes experienced. And why should my shopping site know me better than my benfits site?


fran October 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

natasha, amen. and i happen to know there’s no “spin” to what you’re doing.



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