With key pieces of health care reform going into effect in 2014, US plan sponsors have even more to consider this year as they prepare for their annual health benefits open enrollment. In response, Mercer has developed a short checklist that outlines steps sponsors should take to maximize the value of their benefits while minimizing employee questions and concerns.
This checklist is based on Mercer’s extensive experience helping plan sponsors design, communicate, and administer health benefit programs. It also is based on key findings from the 2012 Mercer Workplace Survey™, a nationally representative study of employees who participate in their employer’s company-sponsored health plan, along with other studies, including Mercer’s Survey on Health Care Reform: The Road to Implementation, which polled nearly 900 employers, and Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2012, a nationally representative survey of nearly 3,000 employers.
Mercer’s open enrollment communication checklist contains five specific steps for plan sponsors to consider:
- Communicate the impact of health care reform – Employees are already confused and expecting the worst, with 41% anticipating 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.
- Promote the role of wellness initiatives within an overall health benefits program – Among very large employers who have measured the results of their wellness initiatives, more than 75% said their health management programs had a positive impact on their medical plan trends. Yet nearly 40% of employees who have access to wellness programs through their employer indicate they do not use them. Mercer has found through actual client experience that a targeted communications strategy can significantly boost wellness program participation.
- Use online and mobile strategies for more convenient access to information and tools – In today’s fast-paced, mobile-oriented world, employees 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% of US cell phone owners using their phones to access the internet and 80% using their phones to text. Clearly, an effective communications program should deliver content and tools that can be viewed easily via a mobile device wherever and whenever an employee finds the time.
- Empower your employees to become informed consumers – Even for employers not making changes to their plans, it’s important to provide access to educational resources to help employees navigate today’s complicated health care landscape — and better understand and appreciate the value of the benefits they are offered. Better education can lead to 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. Yet among large employers that offered a CDHP alongside other medical plan choices last year, only 24% of 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.
- 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 human resources staff and contact centers.
“As our checklist shows, strategic communication will be an essential component of any successful 2014 open enrollment program,” said Suzanne Nolan, Mercer’s Marketing and Communications Leader, US Benefits Administration.
“In fact, 78% of employers are concerned about meeting the communication requirements associated with the health care reform law, such as educating employees and supporting informed decision-making.”
“Effective benefit communication has never been more important than now,” said Mercer’s Rhonda Newman, North American Practice Leader, Communication. “The added layer of health care reform makes this year’s open enrollment even more complex and confusing for employers and employees. Sponsors following our five communication tips will certainly increase the engagement of their participants, helping them make proper benefit choices.”
Mercer has developed a variety of solutions to help employers address the need for health care reform and benefits education. These include “Health Care Decoder”, a website that provides an engaging source of information about health care reform, health benefits, and general wellness topics, as well as a series of email alerts on health care reform and interactive tools that can help employees choose the right decision path based on their own situation. Another is “Health Care Reform Made Simple”, an interactive, engaging website for employees to help them stay informed about the continually changing health care reform landscape. Mercer has also recently launched Mercer Marketplace, a private benefits exchange that has numerous decision-support and other employee-focused resources.
Mercer has also developed a series of open enrollment communication tools designed to help plan sponsors. To learn more please visit the imercer website.
Mercer is a global leader in talent, health, retirement, and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth, and performance of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer’s 20,000 employees are based in more than 40 countries and the firm operates in over 140 countries. Mercer is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), a global team of professional services companies offering clients advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy, and human capital. With over 53,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue exceeding $11 billion, Marsh & McLennan Companies is also the parent company of Marsh, a global leader in insurance broking and risk management; Guy Carpenter, a global leader in providing risk and reinsurance intermediary services; and Oliver Wyman, a global leader in management consulting. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @MercerInsights.