ORLANDO, Fla. — There are a few important questions for those in the benefits industry when it comes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to Karl Ahlrichs, consultant at Gregory & Appel Insurance in Indianapolis.
Do we like it? No.
Is it going to be the law in three years? Yes.
And, most importantly, is there opportunity in the mess? Absolutely.
“We’re only going to get a couple of big crises in our lifetime,” Ahlrichs told a room full of benefits and HR professionals Tuesday at the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation annual conference. “[PPACA] is a doozy. But don’t waste the crisis.”
“We can use this as a trigger point to make the changes we have always wanted to make [in the benefits world], and point to the law as the reason we’re changing things,” he said, adding that too many employers are doing the bare minimum.
Couple PPACA with a number of other threats — including slowed training; high performers becoming mobile and increasing stress and depression among employees — and you’ve got the perfect storm in the workplace, he said.
So, what are the important changes that need to happen?
Ahlrichs points to a few important ones, including focusing on — and identifying — high-performers in the workplace; thinking wellness and improving benefits communications.
First of all, he said, employers are doing a poor job explaining both benefits and PPACA, and its implications, to employees. Though open enrollment is a good time to talk about it, it should certainly not be the only time to do so, he said.
“The power of simplicity is crucial,” he said, adding that employers — and benefits professionals — should be able to explain even the most complex benefit in 30 seconds to employees.
“Annual enrollment still works but a lot of employers use that as the only time to talk about benefits management. And that’s not OK; it should happen all the time,” Ahlrichs said. “Our employees don’t understand what their benefits are. We, as benefits professionals, have to become better communicators and through better technology, we need to get them to make health care decisions.”
He offered some suggestions to better benefits communication: Be strategic about the emails you send, and the subjectlines you use; send postcards (yes, in the mail!) as employees, bombarded with electronic notes, are deleting them in full; and figure out unique and fun ways to communicate your message.
And being an employer in these times and not focusing on wellness? Forget it.
“You need to invest in a healthier workforce with an aggressive wellness plan,” he said, pointing to the benefits of wellness, among them, more productivity, less time being sick; and in the long-term, simply, better health. “Doing so will be a big, huge competitive advantage in the future.”
He also urged focus on mental wellness in addition to physical wellness, as stress and depression are the "highest scoring risk behaviors" for employees, he said.
Ahlrichs said his own company is all about wellness — so much that they’re simply not interested in someone who isn’t to join the company.
“Everyone’s got pedometers; we’ve got cash for it, several incentives for wellness. We make sure our web page has that information [about our program]; in our job interviews we talk about it. The message is we’re into wellness, and if you’re not, you may want to apply across the street,” he said. “Your hiring process needs to have that.”
Perhaps, most importantly, Ahlrichs told the audience, HR and benefits professionals need to be in tune their employees — knowing their wants and needs.
“Don’t worry about best practices, think about next practices,” he said. “Stay ahead of the game. Figure out what your high performers want and get there first.”
“Know what they want and give it to them,” he said.