October and November is “open enrollment” season, when employees are able to enroll in a health plan or make changes to their current coverage. This is the time to provide answers to questions like “just how wide is the network of doctors and hospitals?” and “which plans give me the best value for my money?” And with all of the questions swirling around healthcare reform, employers will want to simplify the process as much as possible. For executives that work for, or own, one of the 60 percent of U.S. companies that provide health insurance to employees, here are several tips to help make informed decisions about health and healthcare benefits, and maximize that investment:
Communicate Simply and Clearly
An Institute of Medicine report from last year showed that nearly half of all American adults – 90 million people – have difficulty understanding and using health information. When communicating, either through company newsletters, email, memos or bulletin board postings, use simple terms and a conversational, personable style. If the information received from an insurer is hard to understand, be sure and contact the account manager and ask him or her to clarify. Also, make it a point to send out information well ahead of enrollment deadlines, so employees have plenty of time to figure out which plan best meets their total health needs and budget.
Make it Mandatory but Keep it Interesting
Many companies set up group or individual open enrollment meetings where an account manager from the insurance carrier or human resources staff lays out healthcare options to employees and answers questions. When planning these meetings, ask about ways to get employees excited about their benefits. Take the time to develop an agenda that is built around energetic, knowledgeable speakers, personal testimonials and meaningful information. Several local companies actually host benefit fairs and carnivals, building events around themes such as “Don’t Gamble with Your Benefits” or “Let’s Get Physical!”
Use the Time to Encourage Healthy Behaviors
Studies show that 85 percent of ill health is a result of our own poor health choices. When promoting health and wellness an employer is not only helping to contain company costs, they’re also helping employees feel better and work better. Use open enrollment time to encourage employees to “know their numbers” (cholesterol and blood pressure), get regular exercise, stop smoking and eat a healthy diet. If a company is going to serve food, it should be healthy – think fruit instead of donuts!
Promote the Benefits Package
It’s no secret that average annual premium costs per employee continue to rise, even with healthcare reform. As a result, many employers are passing on more of the cost to employees, while benefits are getting thinner. If this is the case, it’s important that employees understand how keeping expenses in check supports the long-term viability of the company and its ability to grow, and the value of the benefits package offered to them. Too often, employees don’t fully understand the value of their total compensation package – and what is being spent on their behalf.
Take Time to Teach the ABCs of CDHPs
Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) have gained popularity in the past several years as a way for both employers and employees to control increasing healthcare costs. These plans include Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and defined contribution plans. The ever-growing trend toward CDHPs involves more advanced planning. If an employer has been offering a PPO or HMO for years, but would like to introduce or migrate to a CDHP plan, they will need to take extra time to explain it. If a the time is invested up front in helping employees understand how these plans work, a business is guaranteed to see better adoption.
Health benefits are an important component of total compensation for employees and key to being able to attract and keep new talent in an organization. Make sure to make the most of open enrollment so that employees get answers to all of their questions and they understand the value of their health benefits package. A little time and the right information can result in the best decisions, saving both employers and employees a lot of money.