With health care reform raising questions among employees, companies may need a new approach to open enrollment for employee benefits. In fact, health care reform is just one element of the broader changes taking place in employee benefits. "The era of ‘we'll take care of everything for you' is over and ‘we'll help you find your way' is here to stay," says Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, a leading HR and benefits communication consulting firm based in San Francisco. As a result, "employers have a responsibility to educate employees about making good short-term decisions and helping them see the longer-term picture of how health and financial security stack up."
Open enrollment is often the one time of year that employees pay close attention to their benefits. Given the political rhetoric surrounding health care reform and the performance of retirement plan assets invested in the stock market, employees are likely to have more questions than ever. To deal with this, Benz offers some ways to make the open enrollment period productive for both companies and their employees.
1. Help employees focus on what they can control. Much about the cost of health care seems to be out of individual's control, but that is not really the case. Benz suggests focusing employees on the positive impact of preventive care on health care costs, the benefits of participating in biometric screenings and other wellness programs, choosing the most cost-effective plan, asking for generics medications whenever possible, using lower cost prescription mail order programs, and taking advantage of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs).
2. Focus on employee, not company, needs. Although it is tempting to talk about the crippling cost of health benefits from the company's perspective, open enrollment should focus on individual employee needs. For example, Benz notes that companies should provide real-life examples to show how consumer-directed health plans work and how they can benefit employees, rather than focusing on how much such a plan could save the company.
3. Keep it simple. Communicating clearly and frequently is critical during open enrollment. Benz suggests keeping messages simple, direct and free of benefits/HR/finance jargon. "Define terms. Repeat concepts. Try different formats to say the same things. Don't overwhelm with too much print. Use visuals," she advises. "A results-based wellness program or value-based plan design needs to be communicated in a way that makes sense to employees, without raising their suspicion or fears." She also advocates social media tools, like blogs and microblogs, that are simple and inexpensive to implement.