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,
“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
“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.