Healthcare reform sparks major communication efforts at local companies

With implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) looming on January 1, local firms are working hard to communicate upcoming changes to their employees.

“It’s been my focus all year,” said Tami Harmon, HR manager at Cadet Manufacturing.

Harmon said she started a benefits education program last January. Each month, at the all-employee meeting, she gave a 15-minute presentation on some aspect of company benefits – payroll, disability, life insurance, and, of course, healthcare. She provided a paper copy of the presentation to attendees, so they could take notes.

“I spent time helping them understand how co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles work,” said Harmon.

Many of her peers in HR queried Harmon, she said, wondering why she was starting so soon. Her answer?

“To better the company, try to do right by our community and strive for excellence – it goes back to our core values. It may not help get product out the door, but it does help employees and meet their needs.”

In September, Harmon gave an hour-long “healthcare and you” seminar to the entire company (105 employees). In this seminar, she reviewed the ACA mandate, its 10 essential benefits, and discussed healthcare exchanges and how they function. In October, Harmon sent out the mandatory federal mailer. But, she said, that letter wasn’t particularly “user friendly,” so she added a more explanatory letter and a Q&A form.

“This gave employees the opportunity to further understand what the government was trying to say and address some questions that had come up since September,” said Harmon. As open enrollment nears, she is providing a change sheet that explains healthcare insurance changes. This, she said lets employees formulate better-informed questions.

Jack Graves, chief cultural officer at Burgerville USA, said his company is taking a similar face-to-face meeting approach – but unlike the manufacturing environment, Burgerville employees are not all in one place. Therefore, said Graves, his company is using a three-tiered meeting strategy to ensure every employee gets the information they need to navigate healthcare reform. Graves estimated that of Burgerville’s 1,300 employees, less than 100 are uninsured – the rest are either on Burgerville’s own insurance plan, or on a spouse’s or parent’s plan. But, said Graves, the ACA made another 60 employees ineligible for the company plan.

“We have a huge responsibility to let employees know that by law, they have to be insured,” said Graves.

Burgerville started with face-to-face meetings with management teams at every single restaurant. Then, they scheduled group meetings in various geographical locations throughout Burgerville’s service area. The goal was to explain healthcare exchanges to employees. Attendance was fairly light during the first round of group meetings, so a second round is being held – at least 30 meetings in total.

When these group meetings are complete, said Graves, Burgerville’s ACA communication team – which includes representatives from their insurance broker as well as Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield – will meet with groups of employees (another 8 to 12 meetings) to walk them through the exchange enrollment process.

At iQ Credit Union, the primary communication channel for ACA changes is the credit union’s intranet site, which HR manager Kari Stansberry said has been operational for about 15 years. Content on this site, said Stansberry, includes policies and procedures, calendars and classifieds. The “banner” across the top of the page catches people’s attention for important announcements.

“I love it,” said Stansberry. “It saves a lot of time for HR. We spend less time answering questions one-on-one – people can self-serve information.”

Other potential avenues of communication with iQ’s 180 employees include insurance workshops for credit union members (employees are welcome to attend), the company’s self-service payroll portal, and a mobile paystub app, which has announcement and news features.

“The more things you can get on somebody’s phone or iPad, the better,” said Stansberry. “That’s the device they check most frequently.”

The company intranet is also PeaceHealth Southwest’s main method of communicating with employees about changes in health insurance. Ken Cole, manager of public affairs and communications, said that although PeaceHealth did not make any significant changes to the company’s benefit plans as a result of the ACA, they did use the intranet to share details about the enrollment window. The organization also reached out to caregivers directly at their homes via a personal letter to clarify that nothing was changing significantly, to “provide some assurance on the topic.”

Cole added that PeaceHealth’s HR team also produces videos to help instruct caregivers on the enrollment process, and conducted “direct to leadership communication” via face-to-face meetings and electronic communications.

Harmon and Graves stressed that having the right team and information at hand is important.

“Regence has brought us as much education as they have themselves,” said Graves. “We’re very grateful to have a partner like them.”

Harmon said she went to a lot of local seminars and an HR conference.

“Cadet supported me and made sure I was informed,” said Harmon. “Then I can share with employees and inform company executives about how healthcare reform will affect the business.”

According to Harmon and Graves, employees have been extremely thankful for the communication efforts.

“At first I wasn’t excited about it,” said Harmon, “but I started seeing the response, and realized it was really needed. Just because I’m in it day-to-day doesn’t mean everyone else is. It was a good reminder for me.”

And the value of such concerted communication efforts goes beyond simply passing on “the facts.” Graves said that Burgerville employees have been very appreciative.

“They feel we care about them – it’s been an interesting relationship-building process.”