It’s hard to escape ads and articles about our credit scores. If you knew you would be buying a home at the end of the year, you would probably check your credit score to be sure you were ready and would get the best interest rate. If your score was lower than you’d like, you’d want to know what can be done. You’d probably learn that correcting credit issues takes time, so you’d start right away.
Something similar happens with your employee benefits plan. Each year, your benefits plans will renew. New rates will be determined and you and your employees will be faced with important decisions. Think of the factors affecting those decisions as your Employee Benefits Score (EBS). So, what is your Employee Benefits Score today? What can you do to improve it and when should you start?
Your EBS has several components:
- Engagement and understanding. Do employees understand how to choose and use their benefits? Are they engaged enough to learn? Do you make learning a priority and provide the tools to make it possible?
- The enrollment experience. Is it easy and hassle free?
- Affordability. Are your benefits competitive? Can you afford to keep them that way? How can you reduce administrative and, especially, claim and premium costs?
Engagement and understanding
Let’s face it, benefits ain’t pretty. In fact, they are boring and unnecessarily complex. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Benefits decisions can make or break a family’s finances and access to necessary care. So it’s on us to make benefits communications understandable (at a minimum) but (even better) engaging and informative.
Unfortunately, annual benefits enrollment meetings have seldom been teachable moments. Employees enter frustrated and confused, unsure of what they should do. They may leave even more confused and unhappy. They don’t realize how their participation can lead to better benefits decisions – because they’ve never been asked to think about their needs and options!
What’s to be done? One good place to start may be a survey. What do employees find most confusing? How do they want to learn and when, during annual enrollment or during a slow time over the summer? How do they want to hear from you -- by paper, email, text or on an app?
Very few employees look forward to annual enrollment and, as a result, want to hurry through it as quickly as possible. But yet they’ll spend hours researching an appliance or television purchase that costs a fraction of their benefits. Why? Probably because they don’t see the value of putting time into their benefits decisions.
How prepared are employees for enrollment? Do they have any indication of what changes are coming and what will be expected of them? How can they plan if they don’t understand the playing field?
As the employer, you should determine your goals for enrollment. Will you be minimizing change or rolling out a new initiative? What were the pros and cons of last year’s efforts? Did you ask? Look at your survey results and let employees how you have responded to their preferences. How do they want to enroll, call center, one on one, online? Do they want to involve spouses? Would they try an interactive decision support tool to help them make choices based on their needs – especially if the tool was fun to use? (and yes, that’s possible!)
Financial sustainability doesn’t happen on its own. What’s to be done to keep costs down? What cost containment strategies are you actually pursuing?
- We know that keeping our people healthy will contain costs over time.What combination of carrots and sticks will achieve this?
- If employees were better consumers of care, everyone would save, but what resources are available to help patients research the cost and quality of their care?
- Given the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and fees on health premiums and deteriorating effect on insured pools, is self-funding appropriate?
- How can your carrier help?
- Which employees could and should be covered elsewhere, maybe by Medicare or spousal coverage? Could a private exchange provide some separation from unsustainable healthcare inflation?
- Is it time for telemedicine?
The bottom line for your EBS is taking the time to build a plan to engage employees, to reduce hassles for them and process headaches and costs for you. That’s what improves your EBS and keeps you and your employees happy with your benefits program.