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Getting Started with Your Health Care Reform Communication

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is moving ahead, and it's time for employers to focus on communicating how health care reform impacts their employees. According to a recent study, 75% of employees surveyed say they are relying on their employer to educate them about health care reform and what it means to their benefit plan. (AFLAC 2013 Workforces Report.)

It's only natural for employees to have questions about how reform will affect their health benefits.  By taking the time now to develop a communications strategy for the next 12 to 18 months, you can reduce confusion and time-consuming follow up.

Here are some general tips for employers to improve the effectiveness of their health care reform communication:

Start now

While employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act will not be penalized or fined for not providing the "Notice of Coverage Options" notification by October 1st, some employers may wish to provide the notification.  Read HUB International's guidance on this development.

For some employees, this may be the first time they receive a formal communication about health care reform.  A Kaiser Family Foundation April 2013 Health Tracking Poll revealed that 42 percent of Americans were unaware that health care reform is the law of the land with 12 percent believing that Congress repealed it while another seven percent thought it was overturned by the Supreme Court.  Assume that you will be dealing with a number of misconceptions about the law, such as the belief that coverage will be available at little to no cost.

Keep it focused

In addition to ensuring that your communication complies with government requirements and deadlines, be sure to focus on the aspects of health care reform that are likely to have the greatest impact on your employees right now. Every business is different, and some company health plans may be undergoing major changes due to health care reform.  Stick to the current facts and the issues that directly impact employees.

Communicate often

Don't underestimate how confusing this information might be for some employees.  Develop a timeline to stage the key messages that you need to communicate - including both the communication that is required for compliance purposes as well as key messages that reinforce the value of your employee benefits program in this changing environment.

Know Your Limits

Make sure that your desire to be helpful in explaining available options to employees does not conflict with the following general standard:  Do not provide personal financial advice to employees.  If your health care reform communication is construed to be advice and an employee later regrets their coverage decision, it may provide ammunition for a lawsuit.

HUB International recommends that employers stick to communicating the value of their own health insurance program, and maintain a neutral stance with regard to communicating any information about Exchanges and health care reform rules.  Promoting your own plan is consistent with maintaining a culture that values employees while also helping satisfy carrier participation requirements, an ongoing concern with fully-insured plans.

The majority of HUB clients are planning to release the required Exchange Notice mandated by the law.  Some will even include the following disclaimer when mailing that Exchange Notice:

We are providing this Notice only because federal law requires us to provide it to you.  We can provide you with no further information about its contents.  We also cannot provide you with assistance in evaluating your options for exchange coverage or the potential penalties under the law, but the government agencies will have some educational materials and sources for additional information. You can find more information to help you make your decision at or (Spanish); starting October 1, you can also call (800) 318-2596.

If you decide to communicate additional information about health care reform, consider using a disclaimer such as this on your written communication:

We are sharing information with you about what is currently known or discussed about health care reform. We cannot guarantee its accuracy, and many other factors can affect you and your options under the law. If you need to rely on any information about this law, we suggest you speak to your own personal tax or financial advisor.

To receive updates on health care reform including employee communication requirements to maintain compliance with the law, subscribe to HUB International's Health Care Reform Bulletins.