Employee Benefits... General Alphabet Soup
Alphabet Soup
By Pat Kelly, Account Exec/Healthcare Reform Compliance Director
A little over eight years ago the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) became law. I dont know exactly when but folks seemed to get tired of saying the whole name and we started using just the acronym PPACA. Then it became common to just say Affordable Care Act, now the acronym ACA has become more common.
Now this is where the problem comes in as PPACA has no acronym competition; the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has sole rights to the acronym PPACA. But Affordable Care Act has quite a bit of competition for the acronym ACA. If during an employee meeting for open enrollment you or your benefits advisor informs your members that we had to add a second medical plan to comply with the affordability guidelines of the ACA you may get a lot of blank stares. Canoe enthusiasts may think you are referring to the American Canoe Association. Those who care for cats may think you are referring to Alley Cat Allies.  All total,  ACA has 213 uses.
I have been in this business many years and we have always had acronyms: ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, FSA to name a few. Even before the ACA, not canoes or cats, we started seeing more medical plans joining up with HRAs, MSAs, then HSAs and we called these medical plans CDHPs.
I was very recently communicating with another in the benefits industry and I asked when the business we were discussing became an ALE, as this will determine when this business may need to comply with the large employer reporting and the employer mandate the Affordable Care Act requires. I was asked what ALE stands for.  Its Applicable Large Employer, which means a business that must comply with the requirements of the large employer mandate. I just assumed this person would know what ALE refers to.
Now to my point of the blog. Try to do your best when discussing the benefits your business provides to employees to use full words and not the acronyms associated with them.  If during open enrollment meetings your benefits advisor is providing the communication and they get on the acronym kick interrupt them and ask that they refrain from using acronyms.  It is hard enough to explain deductibles, coinsurance, copays and maximum out of pockets and then add in FSAs, HRAs and HSAs. 
Employees need to learn, and be more confident in, their understanding of the medical benefits employers are providing. This can also be said for other benefits like disability, life, dental and vision as well, although these are not under the acronym barrage like medical benefits are. It is estimated that 75% of those we are communicating benefit offerings to dont fully understand the language most of us use multiple times daily.
For open enrollment make your benefit offerings clear and understandable as possible. You and those you work for or with are spending a lot of time and resources hiring and retaining the talent you need to make your business run efficiently and profitably. Do your best to educate employees on the benefits you offer using words, not acronyms. 
What you dont want to hear after the employee open enrollment meeting is something like this:  HRA, isnt that the Health Risk Assessment thing we did this summer during the company wellness fair?
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