Employers must be proactive in health care reform communication

With major health care reform changes planned for 2014, many employees are unaware of how this new marketplace will affect them, and it’s important that employers get in front of the necessary communication now, says Jackie Cuthbert, principal at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm in New York City. From the media to their own friends and family, employees are receiving so many different messages regarding health care reform that it is causing much confusion. This is the time for an employer to present its value proposition with employees and help them understand what changes to expect that are specific to them.

“Whether health care reform has an impact on your or not, employees will hear about the exchanges, and we think that they’ll be coming back to the employer with a lot of questions, especially with what it means for your plan,” Cuthbert says. “They think they can ask you for information to help their friends and family understand what’s going on. It’s important for you to best give that basic information on how health care reform affects employees and the appropriate expectations right now.”

To help employees understand what’s coming, Cuthbert recommends making a list of terminology that employees are seeing, such as exchanges, individual mandate, affordable coverage, essential health benefits and premium subsidies. With all of the outlets of information, employees could be getting mixed messages.

Along with a list of terminology, an employer should consider developing a guide to frequently asked questions, Cuthbert adds. The terminology list and FAQs can be shared with the human resources department and call center, which both often field inquiries from employees on health care reform.

An employer also might want to consider using a microsite for health care reform communications, Cuthbert says. With a microsite, an employer can create a convenient, interactive platform that offers information from the employee perspective. Information can be updated as it comes out and targeted toward the various employee groups. In fact, Mercer is expected to launch a microsite with these features this month, and Cuthbert believes it can serve employers as well as employees.

“An approach like this offers value to employees, so they can get quick answers to questions and help them decide what to do about medical coverage,” Cuthbert says. “It offers value to the employer, too, because Mercer is committed to keeping up what’s coming from government and updating site throughout the year as information comes out that employees will want to know.”

While there are many ways employers can communicate the upcoming changes, they must move quickly, Cuthbert says. For instance, if an employer decides to exclude an individual from qualifying for a subsidy, it should inform that employee now. Not only does this help an employee plan but it also keeps that employee from wasting time filling out a 21-page document.

“No matter how you decide to communicate health care reform with your employees, we encourage you to be proactive and straight forward about what you expect to do with your plan and communicate as soon as you know, so employees know what to plan for,” Cuthbert says. 

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