The income umbrella (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

Colonial Life, the worksite marketing arm of Unum Group Corp. (NYSE:UNM), recently sent me a well-done report about improving benefits communications.

Building good, effective benefits communication is simply a good, kind, intelligent, useful thing to do.

When worksite marketing companies like Colonial Life do it, it can probably help increase the take-up rate for employee-paid products.

It’s something that insurance companies that sell interest-sensitive products can do even when economic conditions are not too favorable for selling additional interest-sensitive products.

And, at a time when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) seems to be poised to change benefit plans in a big, unpredictable ways, it may provide some protection against chaos, bitter disappointment and difficulties with getting urgently needed care.

When, for example, Colonial Life commissed a poll earlier this year, it found that 98 percent of the workers surveyed said understanding their employer-sponsored benefits is at least somewhat important. About 90 percent said they would like to have a face-to-face talk with a benefits expert.

But it hit me, while reading the report, and my own company’s benefit plan documents, that what what insurers, employers and workers really could use would be a naughty little Mr. Subliminal Man drone (maybe re-purposed from the Pentagon?) who could fly in and tell people things they really need to know, in the language that is actually appropriate, as opposed to the language that people generally feel comfortable using in a professional workplace.

Mr. Subliminal Man could swoop in to XYZ Services Inc.’s breakroom and tell the employer:

  • No, you cannot lay off workers in dribs and drabs, overwork the survivors, slash health benefits, organize a brutal absence management program, and expect morale to be great.
  • No, that candy machine in the breakroom is not doing your diabetes and cardiovascular-related disability claim rates any favors.
  • No, it is not amusing that you have about as much chance of providing a broker or insurer with a clean, complete list of employees’ home addresses as the disability insurer has of discovered a big oil well under its parking lot.

Mr. Subliminal Man could tell the workers:

  • We wish that for once someone could use all the application technology we have developed to actually fill out one form out correctly. Scientists have told us that that’s possible.
  • We could talk to you honestly and candidly about claims, so you knew what you were really getting, but then you’d lawyer up and game the system, and we’d somehow end up paying you a claim for that terrible disease while you were inexplicably in enough state of remission to run marathons and shingle your roof.
  • And, of course, “Yes. You are very fat.”

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