Benefits managers are just months away from what may prove the most challenging open enrollment season of their careers. For some, a large number of employees who never before qualified for group health insurance now might. For others, a move to a private exchange must be handled with the delicacy of a diamond cutter. For all, proper open enrollment communications strategy and execution will be paramount.

Dani McCauley, senior vice president of marketing at Univers, discussed with EBN steps employers should be taking leading up to enrollment season this fall.

EBN: What’s different this year with open enrollment?

McCauley: The biggest thing that has changed this year is that employers are recognizing that the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] regulations are going to require them to educate their employees in ways they never have had to previously because now there’s an incentive with the addition of exchanges in 2014, and … employers need their employees to understand how it all works. Previously, employees understood benefits when they got sick. Now, there’s a financial incentive for companies to make sure employees understand what they elect.

EBN: How do employers incorporate this with the general shift toward consumer-driven health plans?

McCauley: [Employers need] a strategy that provides consistent, ongoing messages to employees throughout the year — not only externally push messages, but ways that employees can continue to have conversations with HR with benefits-related content — that really focuses on wellness and the role that an employee can have in keeping health costs down.

It’s one thing to say [to employees], “You need to pick the health risk assessment program versus the PTO, here’s why, and here’s how that will save you money.” It’s another thing, in the middle of the year, when somebody needs an MRI, to [help workers] understand why they should have a say in where to get an MRI. That’s a totally different, more evolved conversation, and it can’t happen once a year. Our experience has been that employees can take in only about 20 minutes of material on benefits at a time before you have diminishing returns. And on top of that, when you go into a group setting, 5-10% of the conversation is going to be relevant to that employees’ particular situation.

Read more of McCauley’s advice on post-PPACA open enrollment communication in tomorrow’s inBrief and the May EBN.

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