You're on the third floor waiting for the elevator, on the way down to grab your morning cup of coffee. The elevator doors open and standing there is the CEO. It's just the two of you in the elevator.

The CEO turns toward you and says, "Hey, I saw something on the news about free preventive services and health care reform, what are we doing about it?"

Would you know what to say?

As the benefits team, you already know it's your job to inform and educate your employees and their families about the changes associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But do you have something prepared for those run-ins with senior-level management?

If you don't, you're allowing misinformed bloggers, news outlets and employees to spread half-truths and assumptions, even if their intentions are good. The challenges of communicating health care reform are immense enough without having to respond to every rumor that reaches the CEO.

Be ready for that elevator run-in and make sure your senior leaders feel in the loop with these tips:

* Have a two-minute overview ready. Provide a high-level overview of the health care reform legislation and the expected overall impact to the organization. Make sure you let them know the breadth of the legislation, that it's much bigger than just the benefits department and will require everyone's participation.

* Tell them what they need to know now but also be able to articulate a longer-term strategy. Educate leaders on the specific 2010/11 provisions affecting the organization, especially the ones that will affect them personally, and bring to their attention any business decisions that need to be made now. For example, is our plan grandfathered?

What are the costs and responsibilities associated with implementing the 2010/2011 provisions? Don't focus on the details of the provisions taking effect in 2012 and beyond. Things will most likely change. But, do articulate your longer-term strategy and reassure leaders that you're preparing for whatever is ahead.

* Sign up for subscription updates from the DOL, HHS and Employee Benefit News so you're not caught off guard. The Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services have e-mail subscriptions that will ensure you're on top of the latest information. EBN houses all of its health care reform information in the archives of its online health care reform channel at

* Know the message the company is sending to employees and what reaction to expect. Provide an overview of the company's 2010/11 health care reform implementation action plan to employees and get approval for the message. Sending a consistent message will quell any rumors and prevent your CEOs from being blindsided with angry phone calls and e-mails.

* Implement the known, be ready for the unknown. Provide a sense of the true uncertainty of this legislation and why taking action beyond the known is not advisable - legal challenges, different implementation dates and changing politicians with different priorities. Commit to providing future relevant health care reform updates as more information becomes available.

* Stay positive. We all know health care reform is going to require a lot of work - and has costs associated with it, of course - but don't just focus on the downside. Talk up the opportunity to promote wellness programs more than in the past and how health care reform will support your efforts to help employees be better consumers of their health care. Tie these opportunities to your overall benefits and total rewards strategy for the most impact.

Jennifer Benz is founder and CEO of Benz Communications. You can reach her at Ed Bray is director of compliance at Burnham Benefits. You can reach him at

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