ACA/Health Benefits Surveys: Lack of Communication Intersects with Compliance Confusion

By Rick Bell

Jun. 17, 2013

Deb Whitworth recalled a recent conversation with her son-in-law regarding health care benefits.

The young man was complaining about his company’s coverage. It was an expensive high-deductible plan that wasn’t providing the coverage he thought he needed. His plan? Drop his health care. Completely.

“I told him that no matter what, in 2014 under health care reform, he’ll be required to have coverage,” said Whitworth, a director for the Society for Human Resource Management’s state council in Maine and an employee of consultancy Mercer. “His company never communicated that to him.”

According to dual studies released by SHRM on June 16 during its annual conference in Chicago, offering health care benefits is crucial to attracting and retaining top talent. Yet HR practitioners continue to use old-school methods to communicate health care benefit options and are simultaneously struggling to get their arms around the basics of the Affordable Care Act—much of which will take effect Jan. 1.

“It’s interesting that 25 percent of organizations say they are having trouble keeping up with regulations; understanding the ACA is an issue,” said Alex Alonso, SHRM’s vice president for research in detailing the organization’s annual 2013 Employee Benefits Research Report and the corresponding Health Care Reform—Impact on Health Care Coverage and Costs.

Alonso said many organizations have yet to embrace social media to communicate benefits options.

“They’re still using the same means of communication—send out hard copies of an information packet,” he said, adding that there’s really no way to determine whether the communications are successful.

“There is no clear-cut test to ensure the employee knows what they should know,” he said.

Among other findings in the benefits research report:

  • Paid-time-off plans and wellness benefits continued to increase in popularity, while housing and relocation benefits were less common.
  • Employee referral bonuses have gained in popularity over the last year, with 47 percent of surveyed organizations now offering such bonuses, up from 38 percent in 2012.
  • Organizations are developing their employees’ skill sets with professional development opportunities (offered by 88 percent of employers), cross-training to develop skills not directly related to employees’ current jobs (44 percent) and formal mentoring programs (20 percent). Offsite professional development opportunities are offered by 85 percent of organizations surveyed.

It’s worth noting that more organizations recognize workplace flexibility models are critical to managing top talent, Alonso said.

“It’s not just allowing employees to work from home,” he said. “A variety of strategies are critical to retain high-performing employees.”

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. For comments or questions email

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