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Talk to Employees Now About Health Care Reform

Talk to Employees Now About Health Care Reform

It’s time to start talking to your employees about health care reform. The Obama administration delayed the employer mandate for one year—health reform, benefits, employees, Obamacare, exchangesuntil 2015. But with the Oct. 1, 2013, opening of the health care exchanges closing in fast, employees are going to start asking questions. It’s critical to get ahead of the curve and engage them proactively with information about how their benefits will be affected.

Compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA, is important for any organization. It’s a major strategic issue. Communicating to employees about the ACA is just as important. It’s a critical employee relations issue.

Right now, in the Dog Days of summer, it might seem like no one is prepared talk about the law’s impact. Many workers are on vacation. Congress is gone for the month, and so are most of the headlines about various efforts to repeal or eliminate funding for the law, also known as Obamacare.

But interest in the ACA will heat up soon. By Oct. 1—the day that the state-based exchanges start accepting enrollees for 2014—each employer in the U.S. must give each of its employees one of two versions of a model notice about the exchanges. That certainly will spark some questions.

Before that time, in many states the exchange and its participating insurance companies will start bombarding employees with pitches to enroll. That too will prompt them to seek information.

When Congress returns in early September, there will be renewed talk about de-funding Obamacare, with some Republican legislators suggesting that they would shut down the federal government if necessary to stop the exchanges from operating.

Against this background of “noise,” as the year winds down it will become increasingly difficult for HR to communicate the messages it needs to send to employees about their health coverage options. At a minimum, HR should start now to develop informational resources about how the ACA affects employees—including the provision requiring that almost every American adult obtain insurance or pay a fine beginning in 2014.

If HR is simply reactive, and/or if HR doesn’t have the answers at hand to a lot of complex questions from employees, it will harm HR’s reputation in the eyes of employees and in the eyes of the C Suite.

Here’s why health care reform is a strategic issue today: Even though two big employer penalties under the ACA—one for not offering insurance to employees, and one for offering coverage that fails to meet certain standards--were delayed until 2015, every organization needs to have at least some idea of what its long-term strategy is regarding the law.

For starters, some employees’ hours will need to be tracked in early 2014 for compliance in 2015. And some decisions that employees make in 2013 will have a profound impact on employers’ bottom line in 2015 and beyond.

For example: Let’s say that some of your low-income employees obtain health coverage in late 2013 through a health exchange and apply for and receive federal subsidies for that coverage. If those employees decide a year later to retain that coverage and those subsidies, your organization will be paying a penalty to the federal government for each of them in 2015.

Executives need to be discussing their compliance strategy with their insurance broker, with their legal counsel and within their own ranks. Because of the complexity and importance of dealing with the ACA, many CEOs and CFOs are diving into the details themselves to ensure that they have the best information possible for shaping their strategies and the messages that they want to send to employees.

Communicating about health care changes gives employers an opportunity to explain what coverage they will offer, to demonstrate the value of their benefits packages, and to remind workers of the organization’s commitment to employee well-being. HR and other executives should not assume that their workers are knowledgeable about health care reform; a recent survey found that 40 percent of Americans didn’t know that they ACA was still in effect. Put flyers together; schedule meetings; talk one on one—whatever works for your organization.

To be successful, HR must work hand in hand with the C Suite to ensure that the organization’s messages are not drowned out by the health care reform “noise” that will grow daily through the rest of 2013 and beyond.

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Steve Bates is a free-lance writer and a former writer and editor for the Society for Human Resource Management. His website is www.stevebateswriter.com.

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