Have you ever tried to make sense of health care bills after a serious illness? Did you fantasize about marching into your insurance company president’s office, handing him or her a box full of EOBs and demanding a real explanation of your benefits?
Jim Bracchitta, CEBS, leads off his communications article in the July issue of Benefits Magazine with a dreams-come-true anecdote involving award-winning journalist and author Stephen Brill. Brill had written extensively about the health care system for Time magazine, the New York Times and other publications. After having open-heart surgery, he figured he’d be able make sense of the EOBs that flooded in. But Brill was no more successful than most people in figuring out the bills and claims payments.
Unlike most people, he had access to high-power insurance executives and soon found himself interviewing the president and CEO of his own insurance company. At the end of the interview, Brill handed one of his EOBs to the executive and asked him what it meant. Of course, the executive couldn’t figure it out, either. And his excuse for the indecipherable EOB was the same excuse some benefits communicators might use: State regulations dictate what needed to be said.
[Related: Benefit Communication and Technology Institute, July 18-19. 2016, Boston, Massachusetts]
But an EOB is a piece of benefit communication. And, as is true of all communication pieces sent out by a benefit fund office, if the person who receives it doesn’t understand it, it has failed to communicate. The fund office may have to make multiple attempts to try to get the information across.
Bracchitta, an actor and a labor trustee for the Screen Actors Guild‒Producers Pension and Health Plans, writes in “Getting It Right the First Time—4 Tools for Evaluating Benefit Communications” that all communications should strive for the following:
That means avoiding legalese and “benefitese” most participants won’t get. Participants need to be able to trust what comes from the benefit office and believe they are hearing the whole truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Relevance can be challenging, Bracchitta points out, but finding creative ways to get the right information to people when they most need it is worth the effort.
Unfortunately, the most important communications are the ones, like EOBs, that are highly regulated. But being simple, honest, open and relevant in all communications will make it far more likely people will understand, pay attention—and appreciate their benefits.
Chris Vogel, CEBS
Senior Editor—Publications at the International Foundation