Benefits communication and controlling health benefit costs were top of mind among HR-benefit managers from small and mid-size businesses who attended a peer networking session at Benefits Forum & Expo on Monday.

Benefits pros from organizations ranging from 30 to 2,000 employees voiced their problems and traded solutions and tips in the lively hour-long session. Here are some of the discussion highlights and takeaways were:

o Companies that survey their employees frequently, say once a quarter, reported a higher level of employee satisfaction and engagement. Surveys also help HR to cherry pick the best benefits for their population. "We found out they value health benefits, but they value dental benefits in a whole different way," said one manager. "We were going to cut dental, but not now."

o Continuous communication is the key to getting employees to understand and appreciate their benefits. Many participants have a "benefit or benefit tip of the month" that´s promoted in monthly newsletters, payroll stuffers and management meetings with employees. To encourage employees to read newsletters, one pro "burys" the chance to win a free lunch within the text.

o Don´t expect employees to read benefits booklets. Utilize postcards with bullet items covering the key benefit points and "at a glance" benefit wallet cards in addition to or instead of longer communication pieces.

o Simplify the rollout of a new health plan by automatically mapping employees into the various plan choices based on their prior year´s selections. Employees were told to act only if they disagreed. Few did.

o Mail-order prescription plans are huge money savers for employers and employees. Use incentives or penalties to get employees to switch to mail order, but check state laws on the latter.

o Monitor beneficiary eligibility, even if you have to use an outside firm. One company saved $150,000 in one-year by removing non-eligible dependents from its plans-more than the cost of the data "scrub."

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