4 Critical Points to Communicate about Health Benefits

Open-enrollment period is upon many organizations, and with the complexities of health care reform, increasing costs, and employees relying on employers to educate them on how these matters impact them, having a well-developed communication strategy for your open-enrollment period can help your organization better address the most pertinent employee concerns and questions.

We’ve summarized four critical points your organization should include in its communications to employees during its next open-enrollment period.

Changes to health benefits
According to Hewitt, health care costs are anticipated to rise nearly 8.8% in 2011, with employees expected to contribute 22.5% (on average) to the health care premium, up from 2010 (Hewitt, 2010). In response to the increasing costs of health care benefits, it’s expected that employers may continue to adjust the designs of their health plans through cost shifting, increasing premiums or deductibles, and changing plan designs.

When making these changes it’s important to be mindful of how they will be perceived by your staff. For instance, employees typically have negative view of cost-shifting, but a positive view of having more personal control over their health care decisions (SHRM, 2010). As a result, tailoring communications with language that conveys more personal responsibility, may be beneficial. In addition, explaining the “why” behind any added costs you are placing on employees helps to clarify inaccurate assumptions.  This includes explaining how added costs may be necessary for organizational sustainability.

What choices employees need to make
Present employees with information on what is changing with regard to their health benefits and/or benefits package, what the costs will be, and the options or choices they will need to make (i.e. changing plans, adding or removing spouse/dependents, etc.). Encourage employees to evaluate their individual needs, make use of available cost-savings opportunities (such as wellness incentives, use of FSAs or HSAs, etc.), and get involved in the organization’s wellness initiatives to become healthier individuals.

How health care reform will impact employees’ benefits
The enrollment period is an ideal time to communicate how health care reform will impact employees’ benefits. Even if your organization has been communicating these changes as they emerge, the enrollment period is another good time to readdress how employees are and will be impacted by the reform. Be sure to clearly explain the changes, in as simplified a way as possible, so employees have an understanding of how health care reform has impacted their plan – whom the company plan now covers (including children up to age 26), elimination of annual or lifetime limits, changes to reimbursements through flexible spending accountings/health savings accounts/health reimbursement accounts, new requirements for preventative benefits, and an increase in HSA tax on non-qualified medical expenses.

How employees can receive the most value from their benefits
Communicate or show employees the value of their benefits (perhaps in a dollar amount). Benefits or total compensation statements can be an effective means of showing employees the dollar amount value of the package provided by the organization. In addition, provide updates or reviews on services available through the company benefits program (i.e. preventive or wellness programs) and education on how to be good health care consumer and help control their cost of medical care. Offering resources such as access to benefits experts (one-on-one meetings, presentations, small-group focus groups, etc.), hotlines, online resources, and other print educational materials on benefits, can also be helpful in communicating the value of company benefits.

Benefits can be confusing to employees, and in our experience, effective communication of benefits-related information plays a critical role in achieving benefits satisfaction from employees, and is nearly as important as the benefits themselves.

Additional Resources

Local Benefits Practices
To see how your health benefits compare to other similarly sized organizations in Northeast Ohio and other organizations across the United States, as well as other benefits including dental, vision, retirement, disability, and many more, participate in the ERC Policies & Benefits Survey, open until October 15th. If you need your loginID and password, contact surveys@ercet.org.

HR Help Desk (Members Only)
For additional information or assistance with the complexities of open-enrollment and administering benefits, or for questions related to health care reform, please contact hrhelp@ercnet.org.

ERC Health
ERC Health is a healthier idea in health insurance. By making the right business decision, organizations in ERC Health have saved over $34.5 million over the past four years alone. Learn more about its benefits.

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8 Responses to 4 Critical Points to Communicate about Health Benefits

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