Use the ACA as a Catalyst for Change

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ORLANDO, FLA.—Implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can be the crisis that allows you to, at long last, to transform your benefits strategy, said Karl James Ahlrichs, SPHR, a senior consultant with Indianapolis-based Gregory and Appel. He was the speaker at the June 24 session, “Using the ACA as a Catalyst to Move Organizational Culture Forward,” at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition.

“It’s not important that you like the ACA, but that you implement it in ways that are beneficial to engagement, productivity and profitability for your organization,” said Ahlrichs, a former SHRM Human Resource Professional of the Year for the state of Indiana. “We have to play the hand we’re dealt.”

For most organizations, the two largest parts of cash flow are payroll and health benefits. Both should be aligned with business strategy—in particular, with the needs of the high performers the organization wants to attract and retain.

“If you are 10 percent better than your competition at keeping your high performers, that’s a competitive advantage.”

ACA implementation is “an opportunity to redesign your benefit program to better align it with what your high performers need and value,” Ahlrichs noted.

Instead of looking back at best practices, “look forward to ‘next practices’ by figuring out where things are headed and getting there first.”

For instance, “what high performers want is choice,” he observed. In the wake of the ACA, private health exchanges have come to the fore, “offering a range of ACA-compliant group plans and options that take the cafeteria-plan approach to a new level.”

Market the Message

Employees are using social media such as Yelp and their smartphones. Reach out to them in the media they use, “conveying your messages through an array of channels to increase your chances of getting heard,” Ahlrichs said. For reaching Millennials, “that could be text and Twitter messages that link to a YouTube video. There’s more than Facebook. Get on the channels your people are on.”

When using e-mail, make subject lines engaging to avoid the too-common perception that “this is a benefits message so it’s OK to delete.”

In addition, “offer transparency tools, such as Castlight, that reveal the price and quality of local health care providers,” he suggested. “Focus your messages on actionable information about available coverage and choices, and the impact of those choices on personal finances.”

Wellness Opportunities

Wellness programs have been shown to improve health and increase productivity, but chief financial officers (CFOs) often don’t trust in the payback since it can take time to reap long-term savings from these initiatives. Since “CFOs hate inefficiency and waste,” Ahlrichs advised learning the language of finance and “demonstrating productivity gains with metrics the CFO will salute.”

To appeal to a CFO’s cost-consciousness, “propose conducting a dependent eligibility audit for your health benefits, and ask upfront to use part of the health care savings to fund your wellness initiatives” and to provide transparency tools.

“This is a moment when we can change the world of benefits,” he concluded. “Use the widespread focus around the ACA to bring tangible health and wellness opportunities in front of employees and their families.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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