Communicating Obamacare Changes to Employees

Date: May 15, 2014

3 ways to explain healthcare law changes to your workers.

Obamacare did not make a graceful entrance into the world last fall. Even a New York Times op-ed columnist opined that the healthcare law faced a series of near-death experiences.

But the Affordable Care Act is still alive. And constant changes to it now seem commonplace.  

For small businesses, one constant prevails: the need to communicate these changes between owners and employees. Here, three small business owners discuss how they navigate the most important exchange—exchanging new information with their employees.

Bring All Employees Together

For years, Los Angeles-based MyCorporation, an online document filling servicer provider, has used an external insurance consultant to help its 40 employees understand their insurance policies. Traditionally, each has had the option to meet annually with the consultant one-on-one to discuss benefits.

Last August, Deborah Sweeney, CEO, called a company-wide meeting to share the changes in response to the ACA. “We thought it was good to make sure everyone had the same general information so there was no confusion or speculation,” she says.

Sweeney announced that employees would have a similar health insurance plan in 2014, except their spouses and dependents would no longer receive coverage.

She followed up with an email and then arranged for employees to meet with the consultant one-on-one after they had time to think through their options. The one-on-ones with the healthcare consultant, which took place in-office during four days in September, allowed employees to go over specifics about how the changes affected individual plans. “Employees tend to not do things that are optional,” says Sweeney. Yet when it came to these new policies, she says, every person opted to meet with the expert.   

“I wasn’t the person to know how to put all the pieces together,” Sweeney says. “The consultant’s been incredibly helpful. It helps provide a benefit to our employees that the insurance companies don’t otherwise provide.”

Consult Healthcare Experts

Kee Nethery has long offered five different insurance plans to 15 employees at his Berkeley, Calif.-based small business Kagi, an e-commerce website. The coverage usually changes little from year to year, he says, but for 2014, there were minute differences Nethery needed to address. For example, the HMO option co-pays increased from $35 per visit to $50.

Nethery tapped a professional employment organization, which oversees all his employees’ benefits, to handle the bulk of communication regarding healthcare. It was mostly done via mail.

The first of two packages outlined what current plan employees had and their options for 2014. After employees chose a plan, the outsourced organization sent a new package detailing the current plan and how it differed from their previous plan.

“The amount of communication is pretty complete,” Nethery says. “[Using a human resources company] is an easy way to provide my employees with a lot of choices at a reasonable cost without me having to becoming a [healthcare] expert,” Nethery says.

Encourage Employees to Talk About Insurance

In fall 2013, Colleen Moffitt talked with an insurance broker and human resources consultant to familiarize herself with Obamacare’s impact on her small business, Seattle-based public relations firm Comminiqué.

Her goal: to become a resource for her employees’ insurance questions and be transparent with the direction her small business chose.

That fall and in early 2014, she emailed her seven employees to explain how their plans might be affected and included possible increased costs. Moffitt continued the ongoing dialogue with her employees by incorporating healthcare into the agenda at her biweekly company-wide meetings.

When she decided on a plan, the insurance broker provided a PDF breakout that highlighted the differences between the previous coverage and the new. One of the changes, for example, was that the co-pay is now applied to the deductible.

Moffitt believes the discussions in team meetings were the most helpful aspect to employees in the communication process. One employee told her that having an open dialogue was a great way to air out questions and concerns, and hear questions he hadn’t thought of, Moffitt says.

“Because our firm’s expertise is public relations, people tend not to be thinking about healthcare coverage day-to-day. So I think it’s helpful hearing about it in different times and ways,” Moffitt says.

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