Employers need to communicate health care reform developments in real time

by Jeremy Church, on Feb. 18, 2013

Employers should let employees know of health care reform developments.







In my role as a media relations strategist, I talk to reporters almost daily about new, significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With so much information coming so quickly, it’s enough to make their heads (and mine) spin. But what’s more troublesome is a similar “what’s next?” mindset that seems to have frozen employers across the country.

And their employees may well suffer for it.

Last week, I attended a seminar on health care exchanges. The majority of those in attendance were business leaders. At WordWrite, we offer strategic communications guidance to a number of clients who will be greatly impacted by the continuing evolution of the ACA.

The speakers at the seminar concluded that many employers are still taking a wait-and-see approach to implementing reform. No business wants to be the first to drop coverage and move all workers into the health care exchange market.

Like many in the audience, I left with a greater knowledge of the landscape. Like many others, I also left with more questions than answers. If the business owners and C-suite executives are confused, then imagine how their employees feel.

As an article in the Feb. 14 Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Even by Washington standards, implementing this law is extraordinarily complex. The federal government last year issued 70,000 pages of guidance, including 130 pages on the look of websites for new marketplaces where many will shop for insurance.”

So it’s not surprising that the health care reporters who I’ve been talking to in Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all asking what businesses are doing in anticipation of the rapidly-approaching health care reform deadlines.

The importance of their (and the public’s) appetite for health care news is perhaps best captured in a snapshot of Atlanta, the business capital of the Southeast. Its largest paper, the Journal-Constitution, recently dedicated three full-time reporters to covering health care reform based on reader demand. In an age of newsroom consolidation, no media organization makes a decision like this if the public hunger isn’t there. Health care reform and health care costs might very well be the defining issues of our generation in terms of impact on our daily lives. 

The industry experts I’ve connected these reporters to are echoing similar observations I heard at the seminar last week: Companies are numb, moving very slowly and still in a state of shock. They can’t believe the law survived in its current form and are just now finalizing strategies on how to deal with it, let alone communicate the ramifications to their employees.

But complexity is never an excuse for inactivity.

Next month will mark three years since the ACA was signed into law. On Jan. 1 of 2014 (per the individual mandate attached to the legislation) all Americans will need to have health care insurance or pay a penalty. Employers with more than 50 employees must offer insurance or pay a penalty (pay or play) and health care exchanges must be set up at the state or federal level.

The Supreme Court didn’t stop the ACA and neither did the 2012 elections.

The reality is this: Businesses must quickly implement strategic communications plans to educate their employees on what’s happening with health care reform, even if these organizations are learning about the developments at the same time as their workers.

A recent blog post from The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism spells out the task at hand.

“Clearly, once you figure out your strategy on plan design and how to comply with the 2014 provisions, you’ll need a strategic communication plan to bring employees along. You’ll need to get ahead of the legal notice with language that fits the notice into your big picture approach to health care reform compliance. For many employers, this strategy is going to include high-deductible health plans and incentive-heavy wellness programs, two benefit strategies that require robust, thoughtful communications in their own right.”

Effectively communicating health care information to employees has always been challenging, and the latest demands placed on employers by the ACA will require both urgency and elbow grease.

Yes, the multifaceted ACA provisions being disseminated by the government will take businesses longer to understand. But the effort needed to communicate their true meaning is critical to the sustainability of a company.

If businesses truly want their workforce to take more responsibility and ownership of their heath in the years ahead, then it’s imperative they go the extra mile to demonstrate why these choices are so important and how employees can make them as efficiently as possible.

We’d love to know how many businesses out there have a plan in place to communicate health care reform changes as they occur. What kinds of communications and information would help you as an employer better inform your employees? Are you and your workers ready for 2014?

Topics:media relationsprofessional services
Jeremy Church-1
Jeremy Church
Partner, Vice President and Director of Results

Jeremy Church is a partner, vice president and director of results at WordWrite. He can be reached at jeremy.church@wordwritepr.com or on Twitter at @churchjeremy.



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