Bust Out Your Calculators! It’s Open Enrollment.

wellnesssucks Bad HR, Compensation/Cash Money, Culture, Employee Relations, Good HR, Tanya Barham, Trench HR, wellness

Ohhhhhhh yes.  It’s that time of year again.  HR and Benefits know that this is the time of year when employees need to make some important choices about their benefits plans.

These are choices that, in the unfortunate event that someone might need to actually use a big chunk of health care, can have some pretty serious financial consequences for employees.

So, you are aware of the trade-offs and benefits for each plan, but are the employees?

I caught a piece over at WebMD, Biggest Mistakes People Make During Open Enrollment, where three key mistakes were offered that employees tend to make when selecting benefits.  They then followed up with actions HR pros can take to steer employees in the right direction.

One mistake mentioned, and this one will come as no surprise, is:

“You don’t do the math. Add up your current premium, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, and compare plans by the numbers, advises Tracy Watts, a partner with Mercer Consulting.”

Hmmm.  Sounds like a good idea.  Let’s just hope everyone in your company tested above average on AP calculus for this one, shall we?

In an article on Benefits Buzz, Greg Dagley also breaks down the seedier side of throwing employees into the deep end of medical consumerism:

“…employees don’t know how to buy health insurance on their own.  For sixty years, employers in the US have spoon-fed health insurance to 170 million Americans, who very rarely read their Summary Plan Descriptions. 

Pushing this responsibility to employees will, no doubt, result in analysis paralysis on the part of many consumers.  In a worst case scenario, consumers will purchase coverage that is far too rich or far too poor, simply because they don’t know what they’re buying. 

And I don’t think that consumers will earmark what they don’t spend on a Cadillac health care policy for other health care expenses.  Prior to the current economic situation, Americans showed that, under normal circumstances, they will spend everything they bring in and then some.  The personal savings rate in the US was negative 1% in 2006 and negative 0.4% in 2005.”

Well, that’s just like Greg’s opinion, man.  Or is it?

If you were being honest with yourself, and with employees, you’d probably admit that the medical consumerism you’ve so euphemistically embraced is, in all likelihood, a Hail Mary Play to stop the hemorrhaging of money caused by year after year of exponential health insurance costs.

Why not just own up to it?  I know.  Sounds crazy.  Sounds scary.  But besides being the best policy, sometimes honesty is the only thing that actually works. And it probably won’t kill you.  Or them.

Which brings us to another mistake mentioned in the WebMD piece:

“Mistake #3: You brush off wellness programs. Employers are looking to save money by keeping you healthy.”

It is time to cut to the point.  Why not tell employees:

Increasing health care costs means:

  1. less ability to increase compensation,
  2. fewer opportunities to create new jobs,
  3. less money in the pot that can be allocated to other benefits and programs

Why don’t we focus on not getting sick in the first place and using the dollars we save in the process to create jobs, fund training, and improve our work environment?

It’s a simple, honest message and one that employees can easily understand.  Sure, be a good steward.  Help people select an individual policy that works.  But before you start crunching premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, do everyone a favor and talk about what is really at stake for your company (jobs, training, raises).

Encourage people to take an active part in their health the way they’d participate in a committee in order to be noticed for a raise.  Trust that most employees – when given a clear, simple message – will understand how it applies to their situation and act accordingly.

Oh and, by the way, don’t just give this message at open enrollment.  Trust that employees will get it, but don’t trust that they will remember it.  Make it simple.  Make it clear.  Make it your mantra.