Five Steps to Improve Open-Enrollment Communications

By SHRM Online staff Aug 19, 2013

With key pieces of health care reform going into effect in 2014, U.S. plan sponsors have more issues than ever to consider this year as they prepare for their annual health benefits open enrollment.

In response, HR consultancy Mercer is recommending these five communication steps to help plan sponsors maximize the value of their benefits while minimizing employee questions and concerns.

1. Communicate the impact of health care reform.

Employees are already confused and fearing the worst, with 41 percent expecting that their situation will be worse off with health care reform. The best strategy is to communicate early and often to reduce fears, clarify misperceptions and help employees make smart benefits decisions.

2. Promote the role of wellness initiatives within an overall health benefits program.

Among very large organizations that have measured the results of their wellness initiatives, more than 75 percent said their health management programs had a positive effect on their health medical plan cost trends. Yet, nearly 40 percent of employees who have access to wellness programs through their company indicate they do not use them. A targeted communication strategy can significantly boost wellness program participation.

3. Use online and mobile strategies for more convenient access to information and tools.

In today’s fast-paced, mobile-oriented world, people have less time to learn about their benefits, despite their need for more education. Mobile devices have become the dominant method of communication, with 56 percent of U.S. cellphone owners using their phones to access the Internet and 80 percent using their phones to text. An effective communication program delivers content and tools that can be viewed easily via a mobile device wherever and whenever an employee finds the time.

4. Empower employees to become informed consumers.

Even employers that aren’t making changes to their plans should give workers access to educational resources to help them navigate today’s complicated health care landscape—and better understand and appreciate the value of the benefits they are offered. Better education can lead consumers to make more cost-conscious choices. For example, high-deductible consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) can often have a positive impact on employees’ and employers’ bottom lines. Even so, amonglarge companies that offered a CDHP alongside other medical plan choices last year, only 24 percent of their eligible employees enrolled. Some may be avoiding CDHPs because they do not understand how they work or that lower premiums can result in overall savings despite the higher deductible. People may also be unaware of the ways in which a health savings account can be used to build tax-advantaged savings for future care.

5. Anticipate questions to avoid being overwhelmed with calls.

Health care reform’s 2014 provisions will likely spark numerous questions. An effective communication and education program that emphasizes self-service tools and convenient online access can minimize calls and reduce the burden on HR staff and contact centers.

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