During the most recent recession, it wasn’t that uncommon to hear about jobless individuals taking work that they were overqualified for just so that they could get medical insurance. Even in today’s slightly stronger economy, the employee benefits piece of a company’s total compensation package continues to play a significant role when an employee decides to join or leave an organization.
In the wake of health care reform and the rise in benefit costs, employers are passing more of the cost burden onto their employees; thus creating the need for employees to make smarter decisions when it comes to their benefits, particularly medical coverage.
This concept, however, is not a new one. Carriers and brokers alike have been preaching this to all us for years. The popular catchphrase often used today is: “health care consumerism.”
As benefits managers, we need to discuss the concept of being a wise consumer with new employees from the start — which for most companies — is during new hire orientation. We need to encourage employees to take ownership over benefit choices. Employees should treat these decisions the same way that they do car and home purchases: after appropriate research and then making an informed choice that’s best for themselves and their family.
It’s important to convey to employees that they need to educate themselves about all of the benefits being offered by visiting the company’s employee intranet or portal for plan summaries, booklets, comparison spreadsheets.
They also should go directly to the vendor’s website for an even more detailed explanation of the plans, if need be. It can be time-consuming, but it will be well worth it once they have made a sound decision and when they and perhaps their family members have to live with that decision for an entire year or until a qualifying life event occurs.
How many times have we fielded calls from employees who are upset that their long-time doctor is not covered by an insurance company’s network? If we don’t do a good job educating our employees, they’ll blame us for these unfortunate disappointments.
Excellent communication is the key to engaging employees so they’re well-informed and drive them to making smarter decisions. Often times as professionals we assume employees have an understanding of benefits so industry jargons come naturally. If you’re lucky, you may get a brave new employee who will ask, “I know this is a dumb question, but what is an FSA?”
Be approachable when discussing benefit options so people feel comfortable asking a question without the unnecessary preface as in the previous sentence. It is essential to write your communication materials in a clear and concise manner.
Be thorough and give examples when you can. Ask your employees questions before and during your presentation. Being interactive is the key to an effective presentation. We know what we want to tell them, but not what they want and need to know.
Human resources and benefit managers also need to reiterate the health care consumerism concept throughout the year and particularly during annual open enrollment. I recommend that you be creative in your communication materials perhaps by using a creative concept or theme so as to get employees’ attention.
During annual open enrollment, encourage your employees to enroll a week before the actual deadline so they can enter into a contest to win some great prizes such as an iPad, SoniCare dental system, designer sunglasses, and a Starbucks gift basket full of items valuing $100. This would catch the attention of many employees and increase engagement from them! Don’t hesitate to ask your broker or third party administrators if they could donate a prize which would give them some advertisement as well.