“The deadline [for health care exchange notices] on October 1 is definitely acting as a catalyst, giving companies the opportunity to showcase their health coverage plans. In addition, plan sponsors can show employees how cost-effective their plan is, compared with how much the coverage would cost if they purchased it on their own,” Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications in San Francisco, told PLANSPONSOR.
Benz acknowledged plan sponsors will have challenges to face, specifically in deciding how much detail about the levels of coverage to explain to employees. The exchanges have plan levels Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
“Unfortunately, the definitions of the plan levels are not universal and can vary by state. What plan sponsors can do is to explain the plan levels in terms of broad categories. They can also show how the employer’s health coverage plan is like those plans,” Benz said.
In terms of categorizing plans and comparing price tags, these are tasks that plan sponsors can definitely outsource. Benz noted that these kinds of calculations are usually done by actuarial firms, and she recommended, “Plan sponsors should investigate using health plan actuaries, since they would be the ones best suited to make such comparative analyses.”
Communicating information about the PPACA and the employer’s own health care plan is also something plan sponsors can outsource. Benz noted, “There’s lots of help out there for plan sponsors. There are a lot of firms that do benefit communications and others that specialize in legal and compliance issues. Large companies will tend to go with one firm for strategic planning and communications and then go with another for the legal and compliance tasks, since these are two very different skill sets.”
The medium or delivery system for these communications depends on the makeup of the work force. "While you may be able to make some generalizations, such as younger employees preferring online materials and older employees wanting stuff in print, it really comes down to the individual preferences of each employee,” Benz said.
There are a number of different delivery systems to consider. Benz has observed some good results with social media tools, infographics and webinars. However, online videos seem to be growing in popularity, for a number of reasons.
According to Benz, “People want good and reliable information from their employers, and online videos are definitely a way to get information out there to them. The feedback from employees shows that videos do a good job of providing a simple explanation of what are otherwise complex issues. Many of them say that, after watching a video, now they understand that topic much better than before.”
Benz said part of the growing popularity of online videos is due to time or scheduling issues. “We are seeing less of in-person events, such as town hall meetings and health care fairs, because videos can be watched at an employee’s own convenience. People of all ages seem to love videos,” she said.