Human Resources News & Insights

A quick guide to telling your people what they need to know about health reform

It’s not easy to explain the ins-and-outs of healthcare reform to confused employees. Here’s a clearly written, usable guide to key parts of the Affordable Care Act, courtesy of benefits expert Justyn Harkin.

As an HR professional, you want to make sure employees are prepared for the changing benefits landscape. It’s a challenging task, no doubt about it.

New Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) concepts and jargon can sound especially exotic and confusing to folks who aren’t all that familiar with benefits plans, and if you’re not careful, your communication about the topic can result in even more confusion.

In order to avoid employee freak-outs, tantrums, gnashing of teeth, or just plain confusion in general, you should focus health care reform education or communication on the things that are most likely to affect employees and their families.

Here’s a quick rundown:

‘Cadillac’ plans

If none of your current health plans will trigger the 40% excise tax when it goes into effect in 2018, then you simply need to assure employees that the “Cadillac Tax” won’t apply to any of the benefits your company offers.

If any of your plans will trigger the tax, however, you should use simple, jargon-free language to describe what that will mean for employees.

If your company plans to adjust the structure of its “Cadillac” plans to avoid the tax (and save them money in the long run), then say so. Identify the plans by name and provide a timeline for when these changes will occur.

Grandfathered plans 

Like with “Cadillac” plans, start your communication about grandfathered plans by identifying these plans by name. Don’t have any grandfathered health plans? Then skip ahead to a different topic. There’s no need to talk about things that won’t affect your employees, or at least not in any great detail.

If you do have grandfathered plans, however, know that the word “grandfathered” can be terribly misleading. The key message: Grandfathered plans aren’t exempt from the requirements of health care reform. Explain in simple language what will be some of the things about these plans that will change.

You don’t need to get into the finer details of these changes, though. Avoid getting into the weeds by explaining whether your company plans to keep these plans beyond 2013 and reminding employees that such plans aren’t closed to future enrollment. Help employees understand that they can add additional members to grandfathered plans in the future, and new hires can select plans with grandfathered status if they desire.

Minimum essential coverage

“Minimum essential coverage” is exactly what it sounds like—the minimum amount of medical insurance an individual needs in accordance to the law. Starting in 2014, the law requires most people without health insurance to pay a penalty. The good news is that the law also makes health insurance more accessible than ever before.

Start the minimum essential coverage discussion by letting eligible employees know that enrolling in one of the company’s plans (or in a plan offered through a spouse’s employer) automatically satisfies the requirement.

You can then arrange interest-specific meetings or communications for employees who want to learn more about adding new family members to their plans, or what to do in case the employee decides to separate from the company.

Also, if your workforce includes employees who aren’t eligible for your medical insurance benefits or whose income levels would qualify them for tax subsidies, you’ll definitely want to arrange targeted communications that emphasize the importance and availability of public health care exchanges.

Public healthcare exchanges 

Any health care reform information you share with employees should include a simple-to-understand explanation about public health care exchanges.

For one thing, the United States Department of Labor requires all employers to do so, so you’re definitely on the hook for that. For another, some of your employees might be eligible for subsidies, and they’d probably appreciate you letting them know how they might qualify.

First, explain what the health exchanges are—a place where individuals can easily purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their families—and be sure to include information about where employees can go to get additional assistance.

Finally, be prepared to include information on health care exchanges when you have COBRA discussions with employees who might be leaving the company. Although COBRA will allow departing employees to keep their medical plans for 18 months, they might find the offerings of a health exchange better suited to their needs.

Keep it simple 

Although health care reform represents considerable changes to the way employees have come to understand their benefits, you don’t need to write a book on the subject.

In fact, issuing longer communications is a sure-fire way to ensure confusion. Besides, nothing turns people off like long, dense passages about insurance rules and legal requirements.

Instead of getting bogged down in details, present what you have to say in digestible bites. There’s nothing wrong with a message that’s a paragraph or so in length. In fact, there’s everything right about that.

And if your company’s plan details are going to stay mostly the same for now, say so for goodness’ sake! If a plan or plans might change because of cost considerations or other reasons, be sure to explain why — again, in simple terms — so everyone grasps the details.

Don’t worry about exceptions, what-if scenarios, or fine print right off the bat. Focus on what will actually affect the greatest number of employees. As long as you address the top things that your employees care about, you should be fine.

Justyn Harkin is a communications specialist for ALEX®, a virtual counselor that helps employees better understand and appreciate their benefits.

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