Stop Making the Same Benefit Plan Communication Mistakes

Effective communication is the Achilles’ heel of the employee benefit profession. And while it is not entirely the professions fault that their efforts to inform are failing, it is its responsibility to turn failure into success. Some HR departments pull out all the stops to meet this challenge, developing innovative, award winning, hip and engaging programs. But do their efforts bear fruit? The latest employee benefits education and engagement surveys and polls suggest otherwise.

Condemned to Repeat It…

So much effort goes into developing employee benefits information that it is hard for some HR benefit pros to imagine that their work is not well-received. They spend hours drafting the perfect benefit plan memos, letters, booklets and brochures. They spend weeks and months creating and recreating benefit material for websites, intranets and social media sites. Once per year they host open enrollment meetings and fairs using the same information.

And that is the root of the problem with benefits communication—the same old stuff each year. The same open enrollment announcement memo… The same look to the benefit plan portal and website… The same approach…

This “same” way of communicating sends a subconscious message to the receiver that they too should stay the same. And many of them do keep the same health plan year after year. In fact, over the last decade,
fewer workers change health plans during open enrollment.
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Three Obstacles to a Successful Open Enrollment


Human Resources departments often view the annual benefits open enrollment period as one of their biggest moments. Those responsible for administering the employee benefits program are rocks stars for two to six weeks. Each year they put out their clear as mud greatest hits of benefits options. And like all bad rock stars they think they gave it their all and that their gig was the bomb.

The reality is they have a lot of obstacles to overcome to just get their show on the road.

Three Open Enrollment Obstacles: Time, Cost, and Communication

    Time: Employees don't know this, but the open enrollment period starts with the insurance renewal process. This is when the top HR and benefits staff sits down with their medical plan insurance reps to agree on premiums and plan benefits. Ancillary plans like dental, vision and flexible spending accounts don't normally require face-to-face renewal meetings. These "negotiations" take place via email.

    The renewal period typically occurs late in the plan year and employers have to compete for the attention of their insurance reps that are trying to service all of their employer clients at once. Additionally, both employers and insurers want to include as much of the current year's claims data in the renewal quote as possible. The more data included in the quote, the more valid and reliable the cost and premium projections. All of this waiting and back and forth negotiating limits the time HR has to prepare for and hold the open enrollment period.
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Are High Dollar Medical Claims Out of Your Control?


If you stay in the employee benefit administration field long enough you are likely to encounter the half- to one-million dollar claim. The claim may be for a baby born prematurely, a cancer patient or hemophiliac. These claims may be for your employees or their dependents. The claimant may be a short- or long-term employee. And the claim may hugely impact your health plan cost going forward. Unfortunately, it may also impact how management views your performance.

It seems farfetched that top management would blame you for high dollar claims incurred by others. But it can happen… Despite privacy laws, management may feel that knowing your population’s health status is a central part of your job. And so is providing them with a heads up on potential high dollars claims, and having a strategy to address them. But is it your fault when the firm is hit by high dollar claims?

Are Unexpected High Dollar Medical Claims Your Fault?

Maybe. Consider this cautionary, true story.

Begin Story. A firm hired a full-time receptionist to work in one of their sales offices. She enrolled in the firm’s health plan as soon as she was eligible, the first of the month following 30 days of employment. After approximately 90 days of employment she received a formal performance evaluation. Her performance was not good. She was often late to work and took longer lunch breaks than allowed. In addition, her work product was not good. She made a lot of mistakes. Her manager terminated her employment after just six months and she immediately applied for COBRA family coverage. Continue Reading...

Professional Legal Advice for Employee Benefit Pros Trumps Over Confidence


We all know people who talk a good game at work. They speak with such confidence that few question the correctness of their statements. They are consistently wrong about important and not so important issues, but their opinions are still solicited. Their confidence overshadows the many wrong answers they provide and they are often rewarded for their appearance of being knowledgeable.

Sadly, these individuals work in all levels of the organization and in every profession. No one likes them, including me, but I especially dislike those working in the employee benefit field. Why? Because this combination of over-confidence and ignorance is legally risky... It puts entire benefit programs in legal and financial jeopardy. It results in others making wrong decisions and leads to a vicious cycle of being consistently wrong. In other words, it damages the reputation of the profession.

I can provide several examples of this behavior in practice both from low- and high-level employee benefit professionals. One example that stands out in my mind involved a Vice President of Human Resources and her former employer’s Benefits Manager:
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Health Information Privacy and Security Mishaps May Be Your Fault Benefits Pro


The federal government takes the privacy and protection of healthcare information very seriously. There are several laws to protect an individual’s private medical information. Chief among them is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules. These Rules control the use and disclosure of certain health information kept by insurers, employers, medical providers, third part administrators and other groups.

As a top employee benefit pro you are aware of these laws, but chances are you routinely violate them for several reasons.
  • You have a general but not specific understanding of the laws regulating the treatment of health care information
  • You don’t have a Health Information Procedures Manual
  • You don’t receive regular training or legal updates
  • You use internal IT systems that are not in full compliance with these laws
  • You don’t request a signed release/authorization when assisting with an insurance claim issue
  • You leave private information out in the open for anyone to view
  • You don’t lock up your files
Or maybe it is some other reason, like… You Talk Too Much Benefits Pro.

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