Health Plan Change Communication Gone Right

Confusion, fear, frustration—just a few of the feelings that surface quickly when hearing about a health plan change. The trustees of the Midwest Operating Engineers (MOE) Fringe Benefit Funds knew that the success of a new health care plan design would depend on a comprehensive communication campaign to introduce and guide members through the change. Here’s a look at the steps they took to smooth the transition.

Health Plan Change Communication Gone Right

In an effort to control costs and introduce an element of consumerism, the Countryside, Illinois health fund created a marketplace of seven plans for members to choose from rather than the single preferred provider organization plan (PPO) it had previously offered to all members who qualified for coverage. Fund officials describe their approach in “What’s Working: Introducing Health Plan Choice” in the May issue of Benefits Magazine.

Under the new system, members earn health plan credits based on the number of hours they work and use the credits to purchase coverage on the MOE Marketplace. The marketplace offers a choice of six PPO plans, including the existing plan, and one exclusive provider organization (EPO) plan.

“We wanted members to understand that health care is expensive,” said Thomas Bernstein, fund administrative manager. “We decided to do away with this one-size-fits-all program and produce a marketplace of plans for members to choose from, putting members in control of their own fate as far as eligibility.”

Credit costs range from 1,468 credits per month for family coverage under the highest cost plan, which is the existing PPO plan, to 940 credits per month for family coverage under the least expensive plan, a new high-deductible PPO plan.

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Even though the health plan change was set to be implemented in 2016, the communication campaign began in early 2015.

The first step was introducing the concept during three general meetings for union membership in early 2015. Members watched a four-minute video, which was followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session. About 5,000 people attended the meetings and voted overwhelmingly to approve the change during the meetings.

Once the change was approved, the fund had to prepare for a comprehensive rollout of the new plan in time to deliver two-hour presentations at 22 district health fairs held from November 2015 through mid-January 2016. Work also began on designing the “My150” online member community that would allow members to choose and enroll in the health plan online, among other capabilities.

Those who attended the health fair presentations received a detailed information packet. Information about the plan was posted online, but members also received a postcard reminding them of where they could find the information.

After the health fairs, the plan held 22 open enrollment meetings from mid-January through February 2016. Members could set up an appointment online and meet with a health plan navigator who would help them choose a plan.

After meeting with the navigator, they were guided to the My150 platform to enroll in their chosen plan. The entire navigation/enrollment process took about 15-30 minutes, said Pamela Kowalski, fund director of communications and member education. “I can’t tell you how much the members appreciated us being there to walk them through the enrollment process.”

During the two-month open enrollment period in early 2016, 75% of members made a choice. Of those who made a choice, 85% chose the existing plan. “Most of the members stayed in the plan, but we did see 15% move out of the existing plan with the highest credit cost, and that exceeded our expectations in year one,” Bernstein said.

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Editor, Publications at the International Foundation

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