This article was updated on July 26, 2018.
HR benefit education is critical to employee participation during open enrollment and to ensure correct use of benefits throughout the year. Unfortunately, individuals often have limited knowledge about the options available to them in employee benefits, so they select plans based on what they think they know. A Kaiser Family Foundation study highlights this issue: When individuals were asked to answer 10 health insurance questions, "only 4 percent answered all 10 questions correctly ... [with] 8 percent giving no correct answers at all."
Not having the correct information can lead to dissatisfaction when employees discover they've signed up for a plan that doesn't meet their needs. The Kaiser survey revealed that employees are most confused when it comes to understanding these factors:
- How to calculate out-of-pocket costs once health insurance claims are processed.
- The concept of providers who are in network vs. out of network at an in-network hospital.
- Understanding deductibles and out-of-pocket annual limits for their plans.
- What a health insurance formulary is (concerning prescription coverage amounts).
Those are solid educational focal areas for HR leaders preparing their teams to assist other employees.
Why HR Benefits Education Matters
Employees want to make more informed choices about their benefits, so they will be eager for HR benefits education when it comes time to choose a plan and later when they need to make use of their benefits. By educating employees at every opportunity, employers can increase plan participation, which in turn increases Affordable Care Act compliance and reduces group premium costs.
Four Strategies for HR Education in the Workplace
Within your organization, HR leaders can equip the management team with the tools needed to educate employees about the benefits offered. By using the following HR benefit education guidelines, it's possible to facilitate enrollment participation and eliminate much of the confusion around group benefit selection.
- Plan Usage Guidelines: Make sure that employees understand the benefits of regular preventive health care as well as financial well-being. Organizations that take an active approach to HR benefits education demonstrate to employees that they are invested in their care. For example, the National Institutes of Health published a study of several companies such as Chevron, Johnson & Johnson and SAS that have managed to control benefit costs by promoting health at work.
- Joining or Leaving the Plan: Employees need to be educated and reminded repeatedly about when they can join or leave the plan. In addition to open enrollment dates, they should understand qualifying life events, such as marriage, birth, death and divorce, will allow them to gain or drop coverage outside of open enrollment dates.
- Explanation of Benefits: Provide a detailed directory of the benefits that the company offers, complete with an easy-to-read summary of benefits statement that covers what each plan offers, the premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Keep in mind that part of your HR benefits education should include a meeting to go over the benefit plans and answer direct questions from employees.
- One-on-One Discussions: If your staffing allows, offer employees the option to have a one-on-one conversation with an HR staff member about benefits. This discussion may happen before or during open enrollment season for employees who need help choosing a plan. It may also happen throughout the year for employees who are confused about coverage, billing, plan usage or other matters.
It's up to corporate leaders to continually educate and inspire employees to make the most of their benefit plans each year through consistent messaging and support. The above guidelines are a good place to start to mitigate employee confusion and make sure your workforce is fully prepared to make decisions regarding their benefits plans.
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