Quick Summary: As the saying goes, “The devil’s in the details.” And there certainly are plenty of details yet to come about the health care reform legislation passed in March 2010. But if you think it’s too early to communicate with your employees about the subject, think again.
Since benefits often outrank pay as a factor keeping employees on the job, you can be certain that your workers have lots of questions about what’s coming in health care reform and what it all means to them. Don’t we all? But communication takes on extra importance in times of uncertainty, so don’t avoid it.
While the details are taking shape, here are a few things you can do:
• Acknowledge employees’ questions and concerns. Be honest and say that you’ve got a lot of questions too. But explain that, despite the reported length of the bill, the details have yet to be crafted. Regulations must be written to interpret the law and guide employers in making plan changes. Clarifying how all of this will work is going to take time.
• Make it clear that changes will take place over a number of years. Some provisions of the new law will take effect within months, and others are up to 8 years away. You might want to begin to share information about the changes that will take effect soon. If you offer flexible spending accounts, for example, you should let employees know that as of January 2011 they no longer will be able to use those accounts to pay for over-the-counter drugs. This could affect how they use their accounts this year. Also consider preparing a timeline that will help employees understand when provisions of the new law will be effective. This will help add perspective.
• Explain that you are working with your experts (consultants, legal advisers, and insurance carriers, among others) to determine the new law’s impact on your benefits plan.
• Reinforce the value of current benefits and encourage employees to continue to use them wisely. Emphasize the value of any preventive care that is offered and remind people to schedule annual physicals and immunizations. Stress that prevention is still the best form of health care cost control.
• Remember that your employees will always want to know “What’s in it for me?” “How will this change my circumstances?” With all of the arguing and rhetoric, many people have gotten lost trying to follow the changes. They will appreciate your efforts to keep them informed and up to date, even though it has to be done slowly and cautiously.
• Listen to what your employees are saying and what issues concern them. If there are consistent themes and questions, use those to guide your communication.
• Make no promises other than to keep employees informed.
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