8 Common But Costly Benefits Communication Mistakes

Original Post from HRMorning.com

By: Tim Gould

Here are a few stats that really drive home just how critical benefits communication is for HR pros.  

When employees that were offered rich employer benefits received poor communication, just 22% of those workers reported being satisfied with their benefits.

On the other hand, when employers with less-rich benefits communicated those benefits effectively, 76% of workers reported being satisfied with their employers’ benefit offerings.

These stats were part of a recent study by Towers Watson WorkUSA.

At the 2015 Mid-Sized Retirement & Healthcare Plan Management Conference in San Diego, Benefits Strategist Julie Adamik used those surprising stats as an opening to launch into a presentation about effective benefits communication.

What to avoid

During the presentation, Adamik covered some of the most common — and costly — benefits communication mistakes, which included:

1. Holding a boring benefits presentation. There’s a common misconception among workers that anything about benefits is going to be boring. But when HR pros don’t make the effort to make their benefits presentations interesting, the message is bound to be lost on employees.

2. Letting Legal draft all of your benefit communications. When employers let a legal department write all your benefits communications, there’s a very good chance the documents will be littered with legalese that confuses employees, bores them to the point of tuning out or both.

3. Not allotting enough of the budget to the benefits communications. Upper management often doesn’t have a handle on just how much solid benefits communications are going to cost — at least not in the same way HR does.

Benefits communication must be more detailed than standard inter-office communications, so it’s likely to take more time to prepare and produce.

4. Relying on workers will bring their benefits info home and discuss it with their family members.Effective benefits communication should always try to include spouses and family members.

5. Assuming employees will simply act on the messages in the benefit communications. It’s up to HR to specifically tell staffers what they should do with the benefits info as well as why.

6. Thinking workers will read their open enrollment materials cover to cover on their own time. The more HR can go over during the actual open enrollment meeting, the better. Of course, enrollment time shouldn’t be the only time benefits info should be addressed. Communication should be a year-long process.

7. Opting for “professional-sounding” language instead of simple “plain-speak” English. Sure, HR pros’ world is filled with jargon, buzzwords and benefits-related acronyms, but rank-and-file employees’ worlds are not. Keep the benefit communications as simple as possible.

8. Covering too much info. It’s only natural to try and cram everything possible into your open enrollment materials, but when there’s just too much being thrown at employees, they suffer from information overload — and retain little (if any) of what was covered.

Remember, continuous education is a proven way to improve employees’ decision-making regarding their benefits, which should be the goal of every communication effort..

 Adapted from “Effective Benefit Communications” by Julie Adamik, CEBS, CCP, CBP, as presented at the 2015 Mid-Sized Retirement & Healthcare Plan Management Conference in San Diego.

Many Employees Still Unaware of Free Preventive Care Benefits

Original post benefitspro.com

Even employees covered by an employer-sponsored health plan remain confused about the benefits that are free of charge to them under health care reform law. But employers say that they often don’t have the resources or effective communications tools to fully explain these benefits to the workforce.

This finding emerged from a small sample study by the Midwest Business Group  on Health, which surveyed 53 workplaces, more than half of which had 5,000 or more employees in their plans.

The survey indicated that progress is being made: 62 percent said they were aware of all the free services, which include vaccinations, maternity and pregnancy related services, pediatric services and others. But another 36 percent admitted they weren’t aware of the full spectrum of these free benefits. (Just 2 percent pleaded complete ignorance of the benefits.)

The survey said that larger employers that often use participation incentives to increase benefits usage had higher rates of preventive service use  compared to small- to mid-sized employers, with larger ones reporting about 60 percent participation and small-to-mid-sized around 50 percent. Overall, 53 percent said they offer such incentives.

“In addition,” the report said, “outside of the flu vaccination, survey respondents indicated they are not promoting important adult vaccinations, and for those that do, employee use is low.”

Digging deeper into the benefits available to workers, the study found that 58 percent of respondents offered vaccines only to those covered and their dependents. A small number — 42 percent — included retirees in the coverage.

The flu vaccine was far and away the most prevalent benefit for employers with onsite or near-site clinics, offered by 70 percent. Vaccinations for hepatitis B were the second most common, at 41 percent, with hepatitis A found in 39 percent of plans. Vaccinations for diseases such as HPV, shingles, pneumonia, measles and others were in the 27 percent to 37 percent range. Nearly half of plans (43 percent) covered all vaccinations costs.

Increasingly, larger employers, and even some with fewer employees, are turning to onsite service centers to encourage greater use of free preventive benefits. Nearly half reported having an onsite clinic, 21 percent said they use a near-site clinic, and 7 percent reported using a mobile van.

While overall, employers felt their benefits communications strategies were working fairly well, a major area where they are not finding success is in encouraging employees to choose a specific location to receive vaccines. This indicates that the employer-led national effort to attempt to steer workers to centers of excellence, or at least of cost efficiency, is not yet working well.

The MBGH has created a preventive benefits “toolkit” designed to help employers spread the word about free benefits and increase participation in them.

“Employers are the primary purchasers of health care for employees and families, so it’s important that these benefits are effectively understood and appropriately used,” said Larry Boress, MBGH president and CEO. “Otherwise, consumer engagement levels suffer, resulting in millions of benefit dollars being wasted each year. Many employers don’t know where to start or how to effectively communicate available preventive care benefits to their covered population. That’s why we’re launching an employer toolkit to help employers do a more effective job.”

How Will Extended Life Spans Affect Benefits?

Originally posted on June 15, 2015 by Marty Traynor on benefitspro.com.

Perhaps you saw the Time magazine cover, featuring a cherubic baby and the caption, “This baby could live to be 142 years old—Dispatches from the frontier of longevity.” The articles describe several of the advances being made in extending the human life span well beyond the three score and 10 cited in Psalm 90.

The article got me thinking about the potential impacts of extended life spans on benefits. In today’s world, we’ve begun to identify life cycle needs of employees and their families. We in the voluntary business have been doing this in enrollment meetings for many years.

Technology hasn’t changed the messages, just refined them. Voluntary enrollment systems and exchange systems are being built with life cycle logic in them. In the end, people with young families tend to need lots of term life insurance; people approaching retirement are in need of asset preservation products like long-term care and critical illness, and so on. What will our messaging be, though, in the world of a life expectancy at birth nearly double today’s?

Today’s millennials are putting off such decisions (and triggers for benefit needs) as marriage, home purchase and raising a family. In the future, it’s likely that the waiting period between education and commitment will continue to increase. Surely accident coverage will be more emphasized than today, since most diseases will be cured or prevented by enhanced treatments in the future and the greatest perceived risk to good health will be accidents. In fact, life insurance rates will probably approach today’s AD&D rates into a person’s 40s and it will hardly make sense to discuss “permanent” life insurance until a person is 50 or so.

Plus, the entire concept of retirement is likely to change, as people begin to experience multiple careers. Government benefits like Medicare and Social Security will change radically. Longer life expectancy will mean these programs will need to be able to pay benefits for decades more than their current design anticipates.

Insured benefits will need to change as well. Disability benefits based on retirement at age 65 with reduced benefits for those working after age 65 will become obsolete. Group life insurance reduction schedules will be, again, obsolete. For retirement planning, products in the immediate annuity family need to be revised.

But the biggest change will be the expectations and attitudes of individuals. While we don’t need to start planning benefit products that provide 142 years of benefits quite yet, the probability is high that our current portfolio will change significantly as we look forward, as will our generational messages to employees during enrollment.

New benefit offers education help to parents of special-needs children

Originally posted September 12, 2014 by  Andrea Davis on http://ebn.benefitnews.com.

Joanne Burke can’t count the number of hours she spent researching special-needs law and preparing for meetings with educators and therapists about her daughter Gabby’s individualized education plan. Gabby, eight, was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that happens in utero when a baby’s still-developing spinal column doesn’t close all the way. When she was four, Gabby was also diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, which caused steep cognitive regression. Today, Gabby primarily uses forearm crutches to get around and attends third grade at a public school.

It is families like Burke’s that led Adam Goldberg to launch myEdGPS, a company that helps parents of children with special needs map out an education plan for their child. It’s a program that can be offered as a standalone employee benefit, and it is also being offered through Bright Horizons, a provider of child care services as part of that company’s suite of employer offerings. The Bright Horizons program, Special and Exceptional Needs, powered by myEdGPS, will be exclusively offered to companies with more than 3,500 U.S. employees by College Coach, a division of Bright Horizons specializing in providing answers to education concerns.

Burke’s employer, an automotive parts supplier based in Michigan where Burke lives with her husband and Gabby, has been supportive of her need for flexibility. They’ve offered Burke a flex-time schedule where she starts at 6:30 a.m. and leaves the office by 2:30 p.m. to collect Gabby from school. And, when she returned to work after Gabby was born, she was able to work from home on days when Gabby had multiple medical appointments. Still, when Gabby was ready to go to school, Burke spent countless hours attempting to figure out the family’s options. While she investigated sending Gabby to a private school, in the end, the private school could not handle Gabby’s multiple needs. Through the public school system, Gabby has access to physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy.

“It’s just a lot of juggling. It’s almost like having two full-time jobs at once,” says Burke. “The case management aspect of it can be pretty heavy at times. It’s not all the time, but if there’s any sort of medical issue going on, it can take up a lot more time and effort to manage all of that at once.”

After years of providing private consulting services to parents who could afford to pay for it, Goldberg, who holds a masters’ degree in education with a concentration in assessment, realized that “we were turning away 95% of folks who couldn’t afford to pay for these types of private services,” he says. “This really was the manifestation of my burning desire to democratize the model and be able to scale it through technology so that we could have an impact on millions of children and their families out there.”

One in five children struggle with some type of special or exceptional need and Goldberg estimates that translates into an impact on 10% or more of the workforce. Working parents lose up to five hours a week running around to various doctor, therapist and teacher appointments, to say nothing of the hours they spend filling out paperwork and figuring out who’s paying for what.

Goldberg likens myEdGPS to TurboTax for special education because when parents first enter the online system, they’re asked a series of questions, a virtual intake of sorts. Then, depending on how far long parents are in their journey, the system serves up a series of roadmaps designed to guide parents and give them the necessary information, depending on what their needs and goals are.

They system also includes a virtual binder that can be accessed on any mobile device to help manage and store all the documentation involved. There’s also a calendar feature, which Goldberg says is particularly useful since different states have different timelines for when certain documentation needs to be provided and to whom.

“Once the system knows your child is being educated in Ohio, for example, and you request an evaluation, the system knows to alert you that within X number of school or calendar days, based on Ohio regulations, that you should expect to hear a response back from the school and then it goes to the next step in the timeline,” he explains.

The system also includes a behavioral tracking journal for parents and a letter generator “so that you can get it right the first time when you’re requesting an evaluation from the school or an independent evaluation of the school, or requesting a team meeting to address an issue,” says Goldberg.

Bright Horizons is currently piloting the program with a handful of companies, says CEO David Lissy. It’s included in the company’s core offerings but employers can also customize the program to include in-person education onsite and/or live webinars.

And apart from helping employers with productivity issues, Goldberg says myEdGPS offers the opportunity for tangible savings on health care expenses.

“What most people don’t know — including parents, administrators, and especially employers — is that the knee-jerk reaction is to go to the medical plan if you suspect something’s going on with your child, without any knowledge that you can actually get some of these same exact services from a school,” he explains. “That’s a federally mandated system. The two systems [health care and education] really don’t talk to each other that well. What we’re doing is we’re helping empower these parents to be able to understand what their rights are and how to go about it, step by step, finding the right help in the right ways through schools.”

For example, an employee has a five-year-old child who may not be hitting certain developmental milestones. The parent’s first instinct is to take the child to the pediatrician, who then refers the child to a series of specialists. Each visit requires the parent to take time off work, the medical plan incurs costs and the employee may have co-pays to deal with.

“The reality is, at the very beginning you should also be requesting an evaluation through school, because it’s free if you ask for it in the right way,” says Goldberg, adding that there’s a whole host of related services, including speech language therapy and some behavioral therapies, that are within the legal construct of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“All of this fundamentally is supposed to be free and in very many cases overlap with those medical services,” he says.

For Joanne Burke, who researched all of daughter Gabby’s educational and therapeutic needs herself, a service like myEdGPS would have been invaluable. “If I had access to a resource like this it would free up valuable time to address other  issues,” she says. “The law is complex and learning how it affects our daughter as well as learning about accommodations and assistive technology is constantly in the back if my mind.”