For many employers benefits open enrollment season is just around the corner. When the effective date is January 1st plan changes should be communicated well in advance of the due date for enrollment and change forms. The earlier paperwork and web based enrollments are received the better. Employers and providers can ensure a smooth transition when they have more time to clean up data and make any corrections before an effective date.
Setting a schedule is the first step, creating the communication pieces is the next. Many employers simply rely on provider enrollment and change forms or send out a new plan description. There is no explanation of changes and employees are left on their own to decipher benefits jargon. Other employers send out email announcements, write letters or hold meetings.
Comprehensive, expensive benefits plans can be sabotaged by ineffective communication. Employees don’t understand them, don’t use them properly, don’t make the best decisions for their needs or are simply frustrated by the process. A survey conducted by Colonial Life of Human Resources managers and benefits administrators found that only 21% of employers think their employees have a good understanding of their benefits.
Before employees say, “Oh no it’s open enrollment; another pile of complicated paperwork,” take steps to improve the communication. Start by sending a letter home to describe plan changes and the process. In many households a spouse or even a child takes much of the responsibility for personal benefits administration. Before any letter is sent out have someone read it that is not familiar with benefit plans; a trusted manager or admin. If the employee who is not benefits savvy understands the letter other people will too. Don’t just send out a letter that the broker or provider writes because they are the experts. Expertise does not guarantee readability.
Additional communication steps include meetings, emails, and visits by provider representatives. You should not have to pay for provider or broker representative visits to explain benefits. Make certain that changes and any options that could save employee out of pocket expenses are explained completely and clearly. If a prescription plan has a mail order option that cuts costs create examples that highlight the savings.
Don’t be afraid to tell employees how much you spend on benefits. If employee contributions are increasing by 6% because premiums have increased by the same amount, or more, use this information to explain the change. Many employees have no idea how expensive health benefits are until they receive a COBRA letter after leaving a job.
What steps have you taken to clarify benefit confusion?