Effective communication is key to any internal business endeavor — some would say benefits most of all. And if your business is like many others across the country, it is considering — or already implementing — a shift toward defined contribution or consumer-driven health plans, an effort that may well require your biggest communications campaign yet.

Life Technologies, a California-based medical research and life sciences company with more than 10,000 employees, shifted its workforce to a CDHP in 2010. Benefits leader Carole Mendoza says the eucation and communication effort for that change ran the gamut from bathroom newsletters (the old “porcelain press”) to blogs, webinars and social networks. She says Life Technologies offers its workers a health savings account incentive for subscribing to its benefits Twitter account, but that it’s hard to beat basic email for a direct message.

Mendoza recently walked EBN through that communication campaign, from the high-tech to the low-, and looked ahead to the benefits communication future.

What was behind your decision to move to a CDHP?

Well, like a lot of employers, we were looking at costs that were continuing to rise in spite of a pretty healthy workforce, and we thought that continued cost-shifting was really unsustainable. So we wanted to do something that would engage our employees and help lower costs for the company and for employees, too, by helping them to be healthier.

We have one high-deductible health plan; we launched with two and required a screening and a health assessment to get into the richer of two plans. We did that for the first year, and this year we have one plan. And we require a screening and a health assessment to get any HSA funding, because we still want the data. But heavily incentive-based — all HSA contributions are based on either outcomes from the biometric screening or activities. Our deductibles are as low as they can be.

What about the communications effort?

It started out very low-tech, feet-on-the-ground, explaining all of these changes to our employees so that they had an opportunity to ask these questions. We also rolled out [health care ] Castlight at the same time to help employees with cost-and-quality questions, because they were kind of insulated from those issues in a PPO/HMO world. We have an intranet that’s on a Jive platform, so very social network-like, like Facebook, so lots of blogs, articles online, as well as discussion boards, so we get the good, the bad and the ugly with what’s going on with our employees.

What do you mean by starting low-tech?

We did a benefits road show. All of the team went out to our 16 largest sites in the U.S., so all that had more than 50 employees. They went through first a presentation and then a Q&A on the changes. And we followed that up with another presentation right after we rolled out the plan, so the first one was before open enrollment, and the second was the February the year after, because we figured a lot the questions were going to come up when people were actually living it — so two sets of road shows, with lots of webinar support as well.

We also do low-tech communications for the home; we want to make sure that we hit spouses. So, as much as we’d like to go green, we do print an annual benefits summary each year with a cover letter explaining the changes. And then traditional “porcelain press,” especially for our manufacturing and distribution employees who aren’t in front of a computer all day. We have LCD screens around out sites as well, so we’ll put up benefits messaging when appropriate.

And the not-so-low-tech initiatives?

We have that intranet site that mentioned. Lifelink is our internal intranet and it has polls, blogs ... and that’s also where we’ll take things that are topical, like what’s the difference between an HSA and an FSA, and just write a blog on it, and then include a link to that blog in our weekly digest that all employees get through email. We can do some quick hits on things that may be confusing or interesting or important for an employee to hear.

So, that’s our intranet, then we also have the benefits portal that is with our benefits administrator, Aon Hewitt. So we use them for enrollment purposes, and then we put a dashboard on top of their enrollment tool that has links to 401(k), to health and welfare, to Castlight, Aetna, MedCo, a link to anyone you could possibly want to talk to about benefits, including ADP, who manages our payroll, and single sign-on within the firewall so you don’t have to remember all those usernames and passwords.

When you first informed your population about the switch to CDHP, how did you do it and what kind of feedback did you receive?

[Feedback was] poor, initially. It was a big change, and we launched it just a couple of months before open enrollment. We weathered the [economic] storm of 2008, we were still paying very high bonuses, we had a very rich 401(k) match. But, starting in 2010, we were starting to pull things away like service awards, our PTO was frozen, so [employees] started to feel some pressure. And then you add this on top of it, so, in context, there was a lot of change.

Did Life Technologies employees ultimately warm to the CDHP? Find out and read more from Mendoza in the April 15 EBN.

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