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Communication can help ease transition to consumer-driven health plans


Employers should treat communications provided in conjunction with transitioning to a consumer-driven health plan more as “change management” than as ordinary benefits communications, experts advise.

“Even before we start communicating, we do baseline research. Why are people in the plan they're in? Have they ever considered a CDHP before? This is the way you start to communicate,” said Keisha Olinger, senior change management and communications consultant at Towers Watson & Co. in Atlanta.

After the plan is implemented, communications need to be delivered at least monthly, either electronically or in print, to provide practical tips on how best to use the CDHP, Ms. Olinger said.

Too many employers are “still in the mindset like they are offering a traditional health maintenance organization or preferred provider organization plan,” said Joann Hall Swenson, a Minneapolis-based health engagement leader with Aon Hewitt.

They are used to buying a plan “and then during the year it just chugs along by itself. It worked in the old framework,” but with consumer-driven plans, how your employees use the plan is more important than the choice, she said.

David Slavney, a partner in the talent communications practice at Mercer L.L.C. in St. Louis, describes the frequent shock among new CDHP members as “the Jan. 1 problem.” such as when they fill a prescription that previously cost $20 and now costs $100 or more.

“We make user guides to make the experience in the first two months as it was expected, and provide reinforcements throughout the first year,” Mr. Slavney said. “Once people get used to it, we don't find that people have any more questions than they do with a standard PPO. We also find that people understand the plans better over time. They're engaged. They're paying attention.”

“What we're finding out is that change plus complexity equals confusion,” said Ron Agypt, chief employee benefits sales officer at Hub International Ltd. in Chicago. “Every year, communication and education are critical for every company, even when the plan design doesn't change. They are more important when they move to a CDHP.”