As I enter the EBN blog world, I have some good news and bad news. Which first?  OK, the bad news:  I like to talk…a lot. How do I know? I think the numerous “five minutes of silence” from my parents as a child pretty much says it all. The good news: You don’t have to hear me ramble on as the editorial muzzle is placed on me after a certain number of words each column. So, given that I only have limited space left, let me get right into the good stuff!

Employee benefits mania is running wild! (Thank you Hulk Hogan). Everywhere you look, someone is talking about employee benefits – employers, politicians, lawyers, insurance carriers, and even the general news media. Of everyone, the general news media is doing a great job of making every benefits professional’s job more challenging. Why? Let me take you back to September 23, 2010 – the first day that many health care reform provisions kicked in for employers. On and around that day, many media outlets announced some version of: “You can now cover your dependent children up to age 26!” Employees got excited, ran down to your office to cover their adult children and you disappointed them by saying: “our plan will cover dependent children up to age 26 on the first day of our plan year on or after September 23, 2010” (which was most likely not September 23.) Round one to the general news media! 

Around that same time, many also wrote variations of: “Preventive care, including physical exams, are now free!” Again, employees got excited, ran to your office to confirm this wonderful news and you disappointed them again by saying one of two things: “our plan will not cover preventive care for free because our medical plans are grandfathered” or “our plan will cover specific preventive care for free on the first day of our plan year on or after September 23, 2010.” Round two to the general news media!

Guess what? We have another health care reform provision coming up in the form of free preventive care for women, including FDA-approved contraceptives. As a betting man I would say the general news media will announce within the next few days that preventive care will be free for women starting on August 1, 2012. Here’s the problem: the true effective date of this provision is the first day of your plan year on or after August 1, 2012 which, for many of you, I would imagine is not August 1. Plus, if your medical plans are grandfathered, you might not be introducing this free coverage for the time being.    

Beat the general news media to the punch this time and win round three. Communicate whether you will provide this benefit or not and the effective date now. Not only will this save you from managing to the general news media-generated disappointment factor but if you think about an employee getting this effective date wrong and using the benefit for birth control, the situation could quickly get uncomfortable for all parties involved (as they will be forced to have a conversation with you about what they purchased to understand why it wasn’t free). Over the next few days, I’d highly recommend preparing a communication to employees that speaks to the effective date of the free women’s preventive care benefit for your organization (if applicable as a non-grandfathered plan).  Depending on your communications culture around benefits, you may want to proactively send it out to all participants or at a minimum, post it on your benefits website. 

Mahalo.

Have you already planned or issued communication at your company about the preventive care for women provision of health care reform? Since reform’s implementation, have you been dealing with media-generated misconceptions about your benefits? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Contributing Editor Ed Bray, JD, is director of Employee Benefits for Hawaiian Airlines.

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