10 January 2013

Plan Now For A Very Busy Communications Year

By Elizabeth Borton
The coming year will be a very busy one in the world of benefits communications, especially with the health care reform changes effective January 1, 2014. State exchanges, individual mandates, penalties and individual subsidies will all be in the news. You will need to develop a well-thought-out communications plan for the year to keep your employees informed and avoid any misunderstandings before they have a chance to develop. More than ever, clear, direct communications will serve your organization well.

But first, you need to understand what’s coming up and how it will impact your plans as well as your communications. Our friends at Benz Communications wrote an excellent blog on this subject. Rather than repeating all the information, I thought I’d point out the highlights and provide this link to the full text.

During 2013, you will need to announce three things:

  1. State exchange basics. A description of the state exchange, what services the exchange provides and how to contact the exchange. Not all states have decided how they will comply with the requirement to establish exchanges, so this may take some time to determine.
  2. Your plan value. You need to tell employees if they will receive at least 60% coverage of essential health benefits. Plus, you need to be able to inform employees if they might be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase a plan on the state exchange.
  3. Tax implications. Employees will need to understand the tax implications of buying coverage through the state exchange versus their employer.

But first, you need to do some homework to determine:

  1. Do your plans cover 60% of essential health benefits? You and your actuaries need to determine if you meet the Department of Labor’s minimum coverage. If not, you need to decide if or how to adjust your plan designs.
  2. Would any of your employees qualify for a premium subsidy? A subsidy will be provided to households who have income equal to 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level AND don’t have access to minimum coverage (60% essential health benefits with a single coverage cost of 9.5% of family income).
  3. The particulars on state exchanges. As mentioned, these are under development.

Start planning now!
Obviously, you need to do a great deal of analysis and strategic planning to determine how your company will handle the 2014 health care reform changes as well as other plan revisions. Are you moving to high-deductible health plans? What about incentive-based wellness programs? These types of strategies require consistent, clear communications throughout the year to be successful. Think through the various audiences that will be impacted, the messages that need to be sent to each, and the best timing and vehicles to use.

Most importantly, don’t forget to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. The mixed messages employees will receive through the media about health care reform and the impact on their health coverage will be very confusing. They will be looking to you for answers. Start your planning process now, so you can meet their expectations with clear, concise communications throughout 2013.