Employees need help sorting through health care reform

By BenefitsPro

By Amanda McGrory-Dixon

Health care reform provides plenty of challenges for employers. From preparing for the exchanges to ensuring compliance and everything in between, employers have their hands full.

But it’s more than just a problem with busywork. Many of these changes are causing employers to second-guess their benefit offerings, and this uncertainty is trickling down to employees.

“Some may keep the same plans; some may shift more costs to employees, resulting in higher copayments, deductibles and premiums; and some may choose to send their employees to their state’s exchange,” says Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac. “Until they have an understanding of what their employer’s choice may be, it’s difficult for employees to prepare.”

While many questions remain about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, an employer can still help educate its work force on health care reform.

Rather than blowing off this responsibility, it’s in the employer’s best interest that it does so. Employers are, of course, in a position of authority and so employees expect to receive the information they need from the workplace. When they don’t, it could lead to negative feelings toward the employer.

That a problem exists was underscored in Aflac’s recent WorkForces Report, which found that 75 percent of employees said they believe they will receive education regarding health care coverage under reform, but just 13 percent of employers say educating employees about health care reform is important.

“Making sure employees understand their benefits and any changes that may be coming as a result of health care reform is important to keep them happy and feeling that their employer is taking care of them – a critical aspect of retaining valued workers,” Tillman says.

The Aflac survey finds that the health care exchange system and issues surrounding consumer-driven health care appear to be especially confusing for employees.

When it comes to the exchange system, 76 percent of employees report lacking knowledge while 72 percent of respondents say they have never heard of CDHPs. Despite employees’ unpreparedness, these changes are coming, and employees must understand proactive health management if they are to make the right decisions.

“As health care reform shifts to consumer-driven models, companies should leverage their benefits advisers and brokers to help them communicate benefits to their work force and provide effective solutions to control costs,” Tillman says. “Companies should consider inviting brokers or benefit providers to host group meetings or one-on-one discussions with employees to help in benefits education efforts.”

For the best communications strategy, an employer should make sure the messaging includes why this particular notification pertains to the employees and an action item, says Helen Darling, president and CEO of National Business Group on Health.

Some employers simply announce an upcoming health coverage change without explaining how it specifically impacts employees. Without this information, most employees are likely to glaze over the communication piece.

An employer should also deploy multiple communication vehicles in order to reach all employee demographics, Darling adds.

While younger employees are typically more in tune with digital media, they respond better to text messaging than email. Meanwhile, others prefer group settings where they can ask questions or printed material that they can hold on to for reference.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com