Electronic Delivery Of Employee Health Plan Communications Continues To Grow

Employers are increasingly using electronic distribution and relying on outside assistance as existing and new federal regulations are requiring stepped up health plan communications, according to the findings of the fourth annual Compliance Communications Survey from HighRoads.

In key findings, interest in—and demand for—electronic distribution is continuing to grow. Currently, 80 percent of employers report using some form of electronic distribution, with online portals the most popular method. Specifically, with summary plan descriptions (SPDs), 37 percent plan to shift to predominantly electronic distribution.

A new development this year is the advent of SBCs (Summaries of Benefits and Coverage) under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which took effect September 23. To meet the requirements of the ACA, many employers will use a combined approach of online and hardcopy distribution: 20 percent will distribute SBCs exclusively online, while 16 percent will distribute only hardcopy SBCs, HighRoads reported.

The survey also found that there is increased use of electronic distribution and employees’ growing demand for mobile—and social media—access to their health plan information. More than half of the employers in the HighRoads survey said employees have asked them about receiving benefit information on their mobile devices. About a third of the employers are investigating the possibility of distribution by smart phone.

“Clearly, this is a time when employers are looking at compliance as a critical communications issue and making aggressive moves to embrace online delivery in order to respond to both regulatory requirements and employee needs,” said Kim Buckey, principal in the communication compliance practice at HighRoads. “We are encouraged that the use of portals and mobile applications is increasing as a compliance solution, enabling employers to provide their plan participants with the most accurate and up-to-date plan information, in their preferred device. We expect to see employers explore additional forms of technology to meet changing workforce demands.”

The survey also found the following:

• The biggest challenges facing employers in producing SPDs are having sufficient resources—time, staff, and budget—and managing the review process.

• Some 87 percent of employers plan on updating SPDs within the next year, with some 73 percent now seeing SPDs as both a compliance and communication vehicle. This reflects a 10 percent increase in those who view SPDs as primarily a compliance vehicle.

• Few employers—only 16 percent—rely solely on internal resources to update and maintain SPDs. Three out of four employers work jointly with outside resources in the SPD process, while 9 percent rely completely on their vendors.

“Resource constraints continue to be a major challenge for employers, and 87 percent plan to update their SPDs over the coming year,” said Buckey. “It’s interesting that even with these challenges, most employers continue to view SPDs as valuable means to enhance employees’ understanding and appreciation of their benefit plans,” she noted, observing that “33 percent of respondents plan to rewrite their SPDs to make them more user-friendly in the coming year.”

The survey includes responses from mid- to large-sized employers, representing 5 million plan participants. For more information, visit http://www.highroads.com.

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