Implementing cost-sharing increases or cutting benefits in an effort to bring health plan costs under control can be unpleasant for employers, with concerns about how the news will impact employee productivity and morale. The better employees understand the reasons such plan changes are necessary, however, the greater the chance that the changes will have a positive impact. According to the 2009 UBA Employer Benefit Perspectives survey from United Benefit Advisors, more than 80% of employers felt employees are at least aware of the health care crisis and the reasons for increased cost sharing or benefit reductions; a little less than 20% of employees themselves said they were upset about the benefit reductions or cost increases that their employers implemented. Since communications can play an important role in bringing employees on board with health plan changes, what steps can employers take to make implementation as smooth as possible?
Here are a few ideas, both for plan-change-targeted and ongoing health plan communications:
- Make sure employees are aware of the reality of health care costs. Research and publicize to employees national health care cost data and cost trends. Be specific: For example, contrast the average cost of a hospital stay or doctor’s office visit today with that of five or 10 years ago. Do the same for the average cost of coverage under various types of health plans.
- Share specific cost data from your company’s health plans. Employees frequently think of the cost of the health plan only in terms of what they pay in premiums, and overlook the employer’s contribution. This narrow view hides the true cost of health care coverage, as well as what the employer pays toward the cost of coverage (which, ideally, employees should see as part of their total compensation package).
- Use concrete examples to illustrate how health plan spending can cut into the ability of the company to make outlays in other areas. For example, determine the approximate dollar amount increase in the company’s health plan contribution one year to the next, and compare it to some other company expense. Is the amount of the increase equal to an employee salary? Stated differently, has health plan spending growth prevented a needed hiring? Use this process to show how health plan cost increases can eliminate raises and bonuses, result in the cancellation of company events, delay the purchase of new equipment, and the like.
- Help employees see that when they use their health benefits astutely, they not only save themselves money, but also keep plan costs down as well. For example, when employees use preferred providers, they receive the highest plan benefit, and the plan pays the lower, negotiated preferred provider rate. When employees understand how health plan spending can impact salary increases, staffing, and other investments, this can motivate them to use the plan more wisely.
- Use statistical data to show employees how, generally, unhealthy people use more health care, resulting in higher plan costs. If employees accept this, they’re more likely to try to follow recommended preventive care schedules, attempt to change unhealthy behaviors, and aim to become more physically fit overall.
Employers want employees to be active participants in controlling rising health care costs. To-the-point communications can bring employees on board in this effort, resulting in more manageable costs for employer and employee alike.