Open Enrollment 2011: Five Tips from San Francisco-based Benz Communications for Communicating Benefits in an Uncertain Economy and Health Care Reform World

San Francisco, CA – August 16, 2011 — Given the dual impacts of health care reform and an uncertain economy – combined with renewed corporate focus on wellness and health care consumerism, Jennifer Benz suggests that relying on the ‘the same old stuff’ for open enrollment communication is no longer sufficient. Jen is the Founder and Chief Strategist of Benz Communications, a leading HR and benefits communication strategy boutique.

“While health care reform has been relatively quiet this year, the media and political scene has not, leaving your employees with more questions than answers. And, most employers are looking farther ahead, toward excise taxes, state exchanges and even higher incentives for wellness plan participation. Whether you’re focused on a single aspect of your program or the whole thing, the forces driving change are broader than they’ve ever been,” stated Jen.

“Clearly, the era of ‘we’ll take care of everything for you’ is over and ‘we’ll help you find your way’ is here to stay. Employers have a responsibility to educate employees about making good short-term decisions and helping them see the longer-term picture of how health and financial security stack up,” Jen concluded.

So, how can HR and benefits managers communicate to employees this year? Here are five tips for the 2011 open enrollment campaign:

Neither your company nor your employees can, in one simple or even complex action, solve any of the countless systemic problems related to healthcare costs. Yet, there are concrete, simple actions that do help control costs — in both the short- and long-term. Keeping the focus positive and on what’s within reach encourages and motivates employees and their families — and makes health care reform an opportunity. Focus on the tangible behaviors that impact your employees’ pocket book and your bigger health care picture, such as: getting preventive care, participating in biometric screenings and other wellness programs, enrolling in more cost-effective plans, switching to generics, using the prescription mail order program, and taking advantage of accounts like FSAs and HSAs. Also, use enrollment as an opportunity to promote those programs your company continues to invest in that are largely unnoticed and underused by employees.

Whether you’re trying to explain a new program or re-engage employees in existing programs, you now have a tougher time than ever getting them to pay attention. What works is focusing on their needs — not the company’s – first, and providing meaningful examples.

Many companies are putting their efforts behind getting people to voluntarily elect consumer driven health plans among existing offerings or offering no other choices. In either scenario, make sure you give personal, real-life examples of how the plans work. For instance, employees with family coverage need to be clear about how the family deductible works. Those with a chronic condition may appreciate free preventive medicines for the first time. Highly compensated individuals will be interested in the investing options in the HSA and how to shelter the maximum amount from taxes. And, all of them are going to have a lot of questions long after enrollment is over.

As in previous years, keep open enrollment communications simple and direct. Employees don’t use or understand benefits jargon. Constantly question your communication style; are you using every-day, real-life language as simply as possible? Define terms. Repeat concepts. Try different formats to say the same things. Don’t overwhelm with too much print. Use visuals.  And keep in mind: bullet points, graphics, charts, and Q&As are your – and their – understanding-enabling buddies. This is especially important as benefit plans become more complex. A results-based wellness program or value-based plan design needs to be communicated in a way that makes sense to employees, without raising their suspicion or fears.

Not only is our news cycle 24/7, now we can access it at home, on the train, in the park, in the car, and every other place imaginable. People are staying connected and in touch continuously with mobile applications and social networks. The gap between how the rest of the world communicates and how companies communicate benefits is growing wider and wider. And, companies that don’t act risk losing their credibility all together. Put channels in place that will help you communicate frequently all year long. Social media tools like blogs and microblogs are perfect for the task — and are easily implemented, with little to no risk. Not sure what to say? There are countless resources, tips, and reminders you can find online — Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube – to help you get started. One source of free ideas and content is Benz Communications’ BenefitsTip Twitter feed (

While it’s tempting to lay out a long-term timeline of potential changes, there are too many things influencing the healthcare system to make short- or long-term predictions or promises, even though your employees may ask for them. We recommend an honest acknowledgement of this tension and a commitment to regular communication so your employees feel you are hearing and responding to their concerns. Keeping your communication focused on what matters now will help everyone be prepared for what’s ahead.

About Benz Communications
Benz Communications is a benefits communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns for employers committed to nurturing high-performing and satisfied employees. Benz Communications’ clients include Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and small- to mid-size companies. Additional information about Benz Communications may be found at

Robin Schoen
Robin Schoen Public Relations