HR.com: Maximize Benefits Communications With A Modern Approach
Open enrollment season is once again upon us, which means HR teams are (ideally) circulating Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs) and Summaries of Benefits and Coverage (SBCs) along with enrollment guides and other materials. Taken together, these essential documents contain important information employees need to understand their plans, and businesses face serious penalties for not distributing them on a timely basis:
- Failure to distribute an SPD within 30 days after a participant or beneficiary’s request could result in a penalty of up to $110 per day.
- Failure to provide SBCs can result in penalties of up to $1,000 per failure (for each participant or beneficiary), indexed to $1,128 for 2018. Each failure can also result in an excise tax of $100 per individual per day.
But beyond compliance requirements, HR teams should consider how to enhance these documents to help employees better understand their health plan options and make more informed decisions—decisions that could drive down costs for employers and employees alike. Historically, SPDs in particular have been lengthy, hard to understand and, therefore, not useful, despite the weeks, if not months, spent creating them. And enrollment guides don’t fare much better – eighty-three percent of employees spend less than an hour reviewing their plan options before open enrollment, and 41 percent of employees spend 15 minutes or less.
To encourage employees to use the benefits materials available to them, both at enrollment and year-round, HR teams should consider modernizing SPDs to improve readability and accessibility. While most organizations now distribute SPDs and enrollment materials electronically, HR teams should consider taking modernization one step further by using an Interactive Document Solution (IDS) format. IDSs offer interactive links to more detailed information around benefits sub-topics—transforming a boring health care document into digestible, user-friendly reading material for employees. The IDS format also delivers:
- Better access. With an IDS, employees can access SPD content through a URL wherever they are and whenever they need it—whether it’s via their desktop computer at home, a tablet in their doctor’s office or their smartphone on vacation. In the case of one telecom company, the HR team made it possible for employees to access the SPD through a QR code (read by mobile devices), so they could access the content quickly, immediately and on the go.
- More shareable. In the IDS format, employees can more easily navigate their SPDs based on specific questions. Employees are able to print or email sections, and even entire pages, of the SPD to share with covered dependents or their doctors. Plan participants can leverage this information to have more meaningful discussions with their health care providers about care and treatment, knowing what’s covered and what’s not.
- Real-time accuracy. By switching to an IDS, HR teams can update SPDs in real time to ensure the information employees need is always available and accurate. By enhancing SPD content on a continual basis with new enrollment guides, links to HSA information and other benefits-related resources, HR can ensure that employees are accessing reliable data to inform their benefits decisions.
- Personalized communications. Interactive SPDs and other communication materials collect a wealth of data that can be used to create more tailored and effective employee benefits communications. Companies can use the analytics function built into the back end of the IDS platform to explore which sections and terms employees most frequently view, search and click on. With these insights, the HR team can determine which benefits most confuse employees and where they need to increase their communications. IDS analytics also track and report document usage, allowing HR to measure the value of the investment and the success of the benefits strategy.
SPDs and SBC forms are important and mandatory components of communicating health benefits, but they should not serve as HR’s sole strategy for benefits education. A 2017 research study showed that 90 percent of employees want to better understand their healthcare, 50 percent want personal guidance and 44 percent want simple explanations. What better way to accomplish that than with one-on-one support? HR teams can make sure benefits counseling is aligned with the employer’s benefits options strategy by arranging for Benefits Educators well in advance of Open Enrollment. Once up to speed, Benefits Educators can hold one-on-one conversations with employees to define health care terms that employees don’t understand, compare different plans to suit employees’ needs, explain voluntary benefits and empower employees to make the most of their benefits year-round. In fact, a Colonial Life whitepaper showed that 98 percent of employees who have participated in individual benefits counseling say they understand their benefits better.
With a modern and multi-pronged benefits education and communications strategy that combines roust, interactive and user-friendly materials with personalized assistance, HR teams can ensure that employees are prepared to make educated choices about their benefits. Employees are better able to weigh their options and choose the plans that are right for them during open enrollment—saving them and their employers money. In turn, HR can streamline preparation for open enrollment and know that the materials they provide are truly delivering value to employees. By optimizing the process now, HR can lay the groundwork to answer benefits questions, meet mandates and continue education for the entire year.
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(Kim Buckey is vice president of client services for DirectPath)