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Getting-Employers-to-Like-Their-High-Deductible-Plans1As we approach another open enrollment, we struggle to find ways for employees to thoughtfully choose the right health plan. And with high-deductible plans being offered to more employees every year, it complicates the process even more.

While plenty of new tools and resources are available in today’s marketplace, employees still struggle with the basics. A flashy tool or even a 1-2 week timeframe to make a decision is not the right answer. Whether a HDHP is being offered for the first time, or it has been in place for several years, most employees don’t understand how it works, and so their frustration continues to mount.

About 1/4 of employees are currently enrolled in a high-deductible plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2015 Employee Health Benefits Survey. And while enrollment is growing, many employees are enrolled in a plan primarily based on the lower premiums. They are not taking advantage of the free preventive care or the tax savings through health savings accounts.

As we move toward a consumer-driven focus, the role of employers continues to change. So we need to teach consumers how to shop for healthcare throughout the year and talk to doctors about costs. It’s not enough to tell them about a tool they can use once a year. A whole new world exists, and many employees feel stuck with a plan they know little about.

Employers who commit to a thoughtful year round communications strategy will start to make strides with employees understanding their plans. The key is to focus on the core elements of HDHPs and how they work with HSAs – including preventive care, how voluntary benefits play into the mix, negotiating with providers, shopping for prescription drugs, and more.

Getting employees to like their high-deductible plan is an uphill battle. However, soliciting feedback from employees through focus groups and surveys will provide some insight as to where the struggles lie. We have the communication and survey tools to help engage our clients’ employees. Just ask us.

Custom CommunicationsA recent MetLife survey found that only 42 percent of employers are very satisfied with the levels of engagement during their annual open enrollment events. And it’s no wonder, with survey results also showing that up to one-third of employees missed the enrollment deadline, failed to participate in the event or simply defaulted to their previous year’s enrollment options.

With benefits satisfaction so closely linked to job satisfaction, it’s critically important that you as an employer take the time to both offer an attractive benefits package and engage employees through the enrollment process. By doing so, you’ll not only improve benefits participation, but you’ll help build and maintain the quality workforce that your company needs to grow and compete.

Here are some important ways you can improve the open enrollment experience at your company.

1. Simplify the Process
If you want employees to take advantage of your benefits package, you need to streamline the enrollment process and provide materials that are straightforward and easy to understand. Another key to engaging employees, is providing enrollment materials that are personalized to address generational differences. According to the MetLife survey, 74 percent of survey respondents said they appreciated personalized materials that spoke to their unique needs and concerns.

2. Get Online
Online enrollment has become a popular request – particularly among those who have grown to appreciate the ease and convenience of online shopping. According to the MetLife survey, almost 50 percent of respondents preferred online enrollment, with employees more likely to engage in the enrollment process if online enrollment was both available and on par with the online shopping experiences they’ve grown used to. Also important are online decision-making tools to help them determine which benefits most clearly reflect their needs.

3. Communicate Cleary, Communicate Often
To keep employees engaged, enrollment materials must be clear, easy to understand and free of insurance jargon. You’ll also want to clearly outline any major policy changes – particularly if they come at an additional cost to your employees. Then, once open enrollment ends, keep the conversation going throughout the year, as there is a direct link between frequency of benefits communications and employee engagement. These materials can take the form of a newsletter, blog or email newsletter campaign and should present information on upcoming issues, such as health care reform.

4. Get Feedback
According to survey results, 42 percent of employees who reported being engaged in their annual open enrollment event were asked to give feedback on both their employer’s benefits plans and the overall enrollment experience. Of those who weren’t asked to give feedback, only 17 percent were engaged in the enrollment process. By talking to employees and asking them for their opinions, you’ll be able to better design an experience that reflects their overall needs and preferences.

With key pieces of the Affordable Care Act taking effect in 2014, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide employees with clear, easy to digest benefits materials. When done correctly, these materials will answer your employees’ questions, dispel any misconceptions and keep them engaged—both during open enrollment season and all year long.

Custom CommunicationsIn July, the federal government postponed until 2015 the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) mandate requiring that employers with 50 or more full-time employees offer a minimum level of health care coverage to their workers – or pay penalties. But this postponement did not relieve employers of their responsibility, under the ACA, to notify employees about the health care exchanges that are being established for individuals and small businesses to purchase health care coverage with an effective date of January 1, 2014. All businesses that must comply with the provisions of the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) – regardless of the size of their employee population – are required to provide this notice.

What is your responsibility under the ACA?

You must use first-class mail or email to provide a notice to each of your employees – regardless of their employment status (full- or part-time) or their plan enrollment status – by October 1, 2013. Your notice must be written in easy-to-understand language and provided free of charge. After October 1, 2013, you must provide new hires with this notice within 14 days of their employment start date.

What do you need to include in this notice?

The ACA requires you to include three important pieces of information in your employee notice:

You can easily provide this notice…

The Department of Labor has made it easy for employers to comply with this notification requirement by offering model notices for employers to use – so they don’t have to create their own communications. Simply choose the model notice that is right for you, based on whether or not you offer your employees health insurance:

These notices are available in Microsoft® Word format – in both English and Spanish. Simply choose the notice that’s right for your employees and make sure you distribute them so that your employees receive them by the October 1 deadline.

There are a lot of moving parts to health care reform, but complying with the upcoming October 1 employee notification requirement is easier than you may think!

Just because the employer mandate has been delayed, it doesn’t mean you can delay talking to your employees about ACA.

Your employees are now hearing a lot about ACA on the news, from their friends, and online. If you haven’t already begun to communicate the latest on ACA to your employees, the clock is ticking!

 What should you tell them?

While each company has to decide how to best tell the ACA story, when it comes to communicating the 1/1/14 ACA changes to your employees, you need to tell them a lot about exchanges, what you offer in the way of medical coverage (and how it complies with the ACA) and give them guidance about what they should do if they do not qualify for your company-provided medical plans.

 So… how it will affect your benefits offering?

Much of what your employees are hearing in the media focuses on how individuals who currently are without medical insurance will be able to purchase coverage with a January 1, 2014 effective date. But if you offer a medical plan, what most of your employees will need to know is what kind of changes they will be seeing in your upcoming Open Enrollment materials—including how much their benefits will cost next year. If some of your employees will need to purchase coverage through the exchanges (due to your plan’s eligibility requirements), you’ll need to let them know that, too—by October 1, 2013.

 Honesty is the best policy

In your employee communications, be sure to indicate why certain changes are being made (i.e., to control health care costs) and how it will affect their bottom line. Also, if you’re making major plan changes, rolling out new wellness programs, introducing HSAs or other new plan features, be sure to explain the strategy behind those changes. Many employers adopt a “we’re in this together” approach to let their employees know that both the company and employees benefit when health care costs are contained, and employees do their part to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Don’t just say your benefit changes are “due to health care reform” if they’re not. And don’t be afraid to let your employees know that change is the new normal—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the right messaging, you can position new plan features as benefit enhancements, even when costs are rising.

Explain the buzz words!

Finally, when it comes to health care reform, be sure that your employees understand essential terms and what they mean in the new ACA world, like “exchanges,”  “minimum essential coverage,” “subsidies,” “gold, silver, and bronze plans.” Do what you can to help take the mystery out of health care reform.

With key deadlines associated with the Affordable Care Act fast approaching, many employers are realizing that this is the biggest and most highly-complex compliance challenge they’ve ever faced.  They’re also realizing that this increased complexity is going to create an administrative burden on their HR departments.

Now is the time to make sure you have the tools and resources you need to ensure your company is prepared for the new regulations when they take effect next year. One way to do this is to implement a benefits platform that is powerful enough to automate routine tasks, reduce paperwork and streamline the entire benefits administration process.

Here is how Custom Communication’s bswift platform is helping employers prepare for the upcoming changes:

Employer Shared Responsibility

As of January 1, 2014, employers with 50 or more full-time employees will be required to offer affordable health insurance coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. “Affordable” coverage is defined as insurance that pays at least 60 percent of covered health care expenses and doesn’t exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year.

How bswift can help: bswift reporting allows employers to quickly determine whether an employee’s individual insurance cost exceeds the 9.5 percent threshold.

Automatic Enrollment

Employers with 200 or more full-time employees will be required to automatically enroll new employees in the company’s group health plan.

How bswift can help: bswift streamlines this process through its automatic enrollment feature.

Form W-2 Reporting

Employers issuing 250 or more W-2s for calendar year 2011 were required to include the value of their group health insurance coverage on each employee’s 2012 W-2 form. This provision will be ongoing and will affect W-2s for all future calendar years.

How bswift can help: bswift tracks employee and employer contributions annually, automatically calculating the total cost of insurance coverage for each employee each year.

Determining Full-time and Part-time Statuses

Beginning in 2014, large employers must track each employee’s monthly status as full time or part time and report these statuses to the IRS. A full-time employee is classified as someone working 30 or more hours a week or 130 or more hours a month.

How bswift helps: bswift can track the number of hours worked and has the ability to determine “pay” or “play.”

Wellness Incentives

Beginning on January 1, 2014, wellness incentives will increase from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of health insurance coverage. These wellness programs may include both participatory wellness programs, such as reimbursements for gym memberships, or health-contingent wellness programs, such as rewards for those who don’t smoke.

How bswift helps: bswift can track wellness incentives and surcharges, integrate with wellness vendors to track activity and link to a wellness portal for integration.

Employee Notice of Exchange

As of October 1, 2013, employers must provide all current employees with a notice describing the availability of exchange coverage. This Notice of Exchange must also be provided to all new hires within 14 days of their employment date.

How bswift helps: bswift will include this employee acknowledgement along with other materials as part of the new hire on-boarding process.

Have questions about other ways bswift reduces the increased administrative burden of the ACA? Contact Jason Hancock at (508) 946-2693 or at jhancock@custom-comm.com