As early as 2018, private exchange total enrollment will surpass state and federally funded public exchanges, according to Accenture. What that means now is starting proper communication with employees is critical, operators of these private exchanges say.

It's important to do this right, as exchange enrollment is very different from historical annual enrollment, with more choices to make, says John Moses, communications leader for Aon Hewitt's Corporate Health Exchange.

With all the choices employees will need to make, Moses explains the communication must be done right from beginning to end - and even past that, when the plans take effect. "[Employees] have to understand that their employer is doing something different and why and what the benefit is for them," he says. Included among those changes is clients implementing a newly formed health savings account or high-deductible health plan.

It's critical, he says, to make sure employees - now seen as consumers - understand there are steps to take between now and January 1 in order to be set up for success. "You don't want them to learn the hard way, you want them to learn the easy way," Moses says. "Our goal is to eliminate mistakes that people may make," such as failing to transfer mail-order pharmacy prescriptions, for example, by making a checklist of sorts.



The right way

Key to the communication will be keeping it simple, says Bob Gaydos, principal of Digital Benefit Advisors Vermont and Digital's national director of private marketplaces. "This is the Twitter generation, we don't give ourselves 15 minutes to figure something out, we give it 45 seconds," he says.

To overcome that, you need to immediately grab someone's attention with the paper in front of them and explain why this private exchange is a good thing, he says, noting that visuals will be very important.

Aon Hewitt's Moses says by keeping it simple, you also provide a link for people to go and get all the information they want. "People who want to dive down and understand the ... granular level can do that. What we are providing [in communication] is the things that people really need to know," he says. "We encourage people to call the carriers and ask questions. We encourage them to call Aon Hewitt's customer service line; we want no questions to go unanswered."

Digital will do the same with its staff, making sure everyone from sales to service will be educated about the exchanges so that the message shared in, say, Phoenix is the same as in Washington, D.C. Until now, such efforts have traditionally been very regional in nature.

During 2013 open enrollment, more than 100,000 U.S. employees enrolled in health benefits through the Aon Hewitt exchange, and Moses explains that they responded well to the experience, seeing it as a marketplace and calling both his company and carriers with questions. In a presentation at the Private Healthcare Exchanges conference in Chicago, sponsored by EBA's parent company, SourceMedia, Moses said the basic keys to success in reaching the audience include being straightforward and transparent, explaining "what's in it for me," nailing the basics and anticipating and emphasizing key transitions.

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