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Clear Communication Needed About ACA Benefits Changes

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

By Genevieve Douglas  

In light of impending Affordable Care Act health benefits mandates, large employers should begin the process of educating employees on the details of changes in benefits now to avoid confusion later, consultants told attendees March 8 at a National Business Group on Health conference in Washington, D.C.

“Think of this as a marketing exercise and not as a communications benefits exercise,” Jim Winkler, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Aon Hewitt, advised. “You need marketing people that are focused on making [health benefits changes] simple and relevant to the employee.”

Winkler recommended human resources professionals use “targeted messaging” by addressing how average employees view their health and their families' health. HR needs to think differently about the messaging from a “health attitude” standpoint, he said.

According to Julie Stone, senior consultant at Towers Watson, employers should use the latest technology to discuss health management, nutrition, and fitness information with workers. ACA mandates are already a matter of public discourse in the media and at the dinner table, she said, so employers must be first to get out their message on upcoming changes to health benefits.

Additionally, from a workforce perspective, large employers need to start thinking about the composition of their workforce (full-time, part-time, seasonal, contractors) and whether their health benefits strategies cater to the needs of these employees, Stone said.

First and foremost, employers will need a compliance strategy for ACA mandates that take effect in 2014, Winkler said. Second, make sure HR has a “keen understanding” of all the trends in the marketplace; and third, start testing and piloting those strategies for wellness programs and delivery systems.

“Every employee is going to see the cost of the ACA in their paycheck,” Sharon Cunninghis, U.S. health and benefits regional business leader for Mercer, told conference attendees. A basic education on those changes needs to be provided to employees automatically to avoid confusion when people file their taxes, she said.

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