From the Blog

How to Incorporate Obamacare into Your Wellness Program, Part 2 of 2: Introducing Wellness Program Changes to Employees

We’ve already described in detail the recent changes in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, that affect wellness programs. Now, we want to share some concrete tips to help you roll out any program changes you may make as a result of the new rules, with the goal of getting more employees to participate in your wellness program.

Because health benefits are important to many people, it’s important to be honest and use plain language when sharing any changes with employees. By helping your employees understand what’s happening, you can prevent anger, fear, stress and complaints.

The format you choose for introducing changes will vary, but at the very least you should post to your company blog and send a company-wide email. A blog post with comments enabled invites public discussion, while email allows more candid (and perhaps critical) feedback. And you can screen responses. Alternative ideas include using the configurable content areas (emails, videos, images) that may already be included in your wellness program. Direct messages from the CEO, and from line managers in weekly meetings, represent best practices for communicating changes.

When sharing wellness program changes with employees, accentuate the positive: focus on the reason why you are making the change. There are many good reasons beyond lower health costs for adopting or expanding wellness programs (such as health, productivity, team-building and culture) – but it is important to cover the most important strategic, financial and cultural reasons for your organization. Be sure to emphasize the reason that will resonate most with your staff. For example:

  • Costs: We have an unsustainable trend of increasing health insurance costs, and we’re concerned about our ability to offer employee benefits if this trend continues. We can continue to offer benefits if we pay more of the cost of benefits for people who participate in our wellness program, and less for people who don’t participate. Rewarding activities that keep health costs down will protect our financial resources in the short term and our human resources in the long term.
  • Productivity: We believe that a healthy, engaged workforce will win in the market. We will innovate faster, delight more customers, and have the energy to compete globally if we are healthier, and if we cost less to insure. We will eliminate unnecessary sick days, surgical procedures, medications and ER visits, and invest the savings in our people and profits. To reinforce our commitment to health and productivity, we will pay more to people who participate in wellness programs and pay less to people who don’t.
  • Teambuilding: We view health insurance as an important benefit that’s not going away. However, we will also offer special programs to help improve your health, and potentially lower your insurance costs. We think these programs are fun and social, and they will help us continue to build a great team. We strongly encourage you to join us so we can all work to become healthier – together.

Each approach will yield different results. Whatever approach you take, make sure to have a rational, forthright discussion of company goals, including how to keep costs down and achieve both financial and health-related goals. Don’t hide the financial risks and opportunities of wellness program participation from your employees – this will only make them fearful.

Ultimately, Obamacare codifies a basic “carrot and stick” structure that enables slightly more rational pricing of health insurance, creates opportunities for massive short- and long-term financial returns, and lets companies be intentional about building a healthy company, both financially and physically. Speak plainly with your employees about this opportunity for “accountable care.”

By understanding legal regulations and carefully communicating changes in your own tone, you will build better wellness programs and companies.

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The White House has announced that it will not penalize employers that do not provide health insurance in 2014 … until 2015.  It’s fortunate that they are giving employers more time –  the regulatory framework and compliance mandates aren’t simple. Now it doesn’t have to be such a rushed process, and companies can spend the extra time building up a wellness program that not only improves employees lives, but also the bottom line.