A new year often means benefit changes for your employees. Even if the plan an employee selected is the same named plan from a previous year, there can be changes to the plan itself that might impact coverage. If you’ve changed carriers or plan options, and most if not all, of your employees will be impacted, take some time to put these measures in place to help ease the transition for everyone.Communication and education are essential to a successful benefit plan transition. While most organizations put in time communicating plan options during open enrollment, many employees will have forgotten the specifics of particular plan options once those plans are actually in effect. Benefit plan changes have been more common in recent years as employers worked to meet various requirements of the ACA. When benefit plans change, your employees may feel the effects in several areas of their lives.Financial Impacts of Benefit PlansAt the start of a new plan year, provide communication to employees explaining changes in as much detail as possible. These communications should be in electronic form, whether it is a letter, powerpoint presentation or video, and employees should be encouraged to share the information with covered dependents to avoid unpleasant surprises at the doctor’s office or pharmacy. When communicating benefits changes, be sure to avoid the industry vernacular and excessive acronyms. Make communications as plain and clear as possible for all employees.Communications regarding financial impacts should be placed in the proper context. While employees may not be happy to bear the higher cost of healthcare, seeing the numbers and the impact that costs have on their employer may help make an increase more palatable.Equip Employees with Tools to Navigate New PlansOne of the most common changes employers made to benefits offered in 2017 was to add an HDHP or CDHP and some employers are moving toward consumer-driven health plans as the only plan they offer. These plans offer excellent savings for employees and they also can provide a buffer against the excise tax imposed by the ACA on high-cost plans. They are, however, somewhat different from traditional health plans and employees might need added education on how to make the plans work best for them.First, be sure to provide reminders to employees about how HSAs work and how they differ from FSAs. Instead of resending all the open enrollment communications out again in bulk format, try a daily or weekly email with one or two tips to make the information easy to absorb.Educate employees on preventative care and encourage them to take advantage of the preventative services included in the plan. Help them understand how actively managing their health will benefit them financially and physically in the future.Remind employees of the tools available through your carrier or the free tools online, such as GoodRX.com, that can help them anticipate pharmacy costs. Be sure to point out that in the event they’re faced with paying for a high-cost medication, that the amount will be applied toward their deductible.Encourage adoption of non-traditional benefitsDoes your 2017 plan year include some new options that may be at risk of being underutilized? If your plan includes some form of telemedicine, continue to promote it throughout the organization. Consider setting up a private space to allow employees to utilize telemedicine resources from work. Post flyers promoting the program in break rooms, etc., and invite employees to share high-level stories (within the bounds of HIPAA) about their own positive experiences. When offering a wellness benefit such as a gym membership or activity tracker, use social platforms to motivate employees to use these benefits.Communication is keyDon’t underestimate the importance of frequent employee benefits communications and communicate across a variety of channel. Graphics and other visual aids can be helpful in communicating complex aspects of a plan. Successful communication should go beyond informing employees of the facets of plans to underscore the value of the benefits your organization is providing. Most carriers will have a variety of education materials to share as well as tips on encouraging adoption of various benefits.Foster a culture that ensures employees feel comfortable approaching HR with their benefits questions. An open door policy may pave the way to identifying a common misconception about a new plan that once addressed, will help clear the confusion for many others.As your employees adjust to new benefit plans in 2017, be proactive in providing the education, tools and support they’ll need to make the best choices for their personal and financial health.

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