Changing the Dialogue: Communicating around the Private Health Exchange

You’ve made the decision to move to a private health exchange and you’re feeling good about it. You’re giving your employees more options both in terms of plan type and carrier. But annual enrollment is just around the corner and there’s an awful lot of buzz about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the state and federal exchanges/marketplaces. You need to prepare your employees for annual enrollment, but you don’t want them to confuse the private health exchange you’re offering with the state/federal exchanges.

Take a deep breath. You can do this. All you have to do is be straightforward about what you’re doing, what’s going to be available to employees and the process you want them to go through.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Be Straightforward: Employees want honesty. They don’t like to be coddled. They just want you to tell it like it is. Be upfront and tell them what’s going on, how this whole deal is going to work and, most importantly, how it’s going to affect them. That doesn’t mean you have to put them through a college level course on benefits, or that they need to read sections of the 2,000 pages of the Affordable Care Act. Primarily, what they really want to know is how the private health exchange will provide them with opportunities to make choices and how those potential choices could affect their lives. A couple of suggestions:

  • Don’t inadvertently set up the public options as “bad” options, since you might want to encourage some employees to seek coverage there;
  • Don’t substitute cute and clever titles in place of “exchange” or “marketplace.” Euphemisms only muddy the water. Your employees should immediately understand the concept of bringing together buyers and sellers, which is the essence of a private health exchange.

Capture Your Key Constituencies: Employees aren’t the first target group that needs to understand what’s going on with your move to a private health exchange. Senior leadership, mid-level managers and HR staff will play an important role in helping you manage the change and in getting the message out. Help them understand why the organization is moving to a private health exchange, and what it means to them and the people who work for them. As with all good change management communication, getting leadership “buy-in” and support at both upper levels and mid-levels is critical. Our experience shows that field HR has been an enthusiastic and valuable ally in helping to deliver the change messages. Plus, they’ll be better prepared to respond when employees start coming to them with questions.

Repeat the Message: There’s a reason why marketers don’t air a commercial once and then retire the spot (except, perhaps, for some Super Bowl ads, but those are a different story). People need to hear messages over and over for them to stick. The same holds true when introducing a critical initiative like a private health exchange. You have to weave the message through everything you do. And when you think you’ve done enough, do more. Keep saying it in different ways across different formats. Use all the communication vehicles available to you—town hall meetings, intranet postings, webinars, newsletters, posters, email blasts and other communication vehicles. You don’t have to go into tremendous detail each time, but it’s critical to communicate with employees at every possible opportunity to socialize the exchange concept and to help employees understand the value that a private health exchange will offer them as health care consumers.

To learn more about how Aon Hewitt can help you through this process, please contact us.

John Moses leads Aon Hewitt’s Corporate Health Exchange Change Management and Communication team.

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