How to Position and Present Employee Health Benefits

The better your health benefits are communicated to employees, the more valuable those benefits will become.
Cory Friedman
Published: January 29, 2019
How veterinary practices communicate health benefits information to employees has a tremendous effect on how well those benefits are understood, perceived, and utilized. Providing staff with ample information and resources will help better convey your message.

As the employees’ main point of contact, practice managers and supervisors are most likely to know what their employees understand and tend to be more approachable with questions. Therefore, in lieu of a human resources department, practice managers and supervisors are best equipped to outline the benefits plan and field questions from team members.

Opportunities to ask questions, express dissatisfaction, and discuss problems regarding benefits information with supervisors and managers should be encouraged. Regardless of who is conveying this important information, it should be done with caution, taking into account the following tips.

Verbal Communication Concerns
Communicating inaccurate information to employees regarding benefits information is, and should be, a major concern. Not only can misinformation result in ill will on the part of employees, but it also risks causing litigation. Consider these tips to avoid problems:
  • Designate only 1 or 2 people to discuss benefits information with employees.
  • Remind those who may be asked questions about health benefits to review the plan documents carefully.
  • Whether formal or informal, do not make promises regarding any aspect of the benefits plan that the practice will not be able to keep.
  • State in the plan documents that amendments are to be made only in writing and must be approved by the practice owner or plan administrator, if applicable.

Written Communication Cautions
If your practice does not distribute written material about benefits information via an official plan document, keep in mind that informal written promises can prevail in court. That’s why it’s important to ensure that any informal written communications about the plan are consistent with the official documents before distributing.
Employees often rely on summary plan descriptions to determine their rights under a specific plan. In the event of an issue due to discrepancies between complete plan documents and the summary plan document, the summary plan document can hold up in court. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that the summary plan document is correct, current, clear, and in agreement with the plan documents, handbooks, and all other benefits information.

RELATED: As a safety measure, be sure that the summary plan description, handbooks, and other benefits communications state clearly that the plan document has absolute authority. This information should appear in a separate paragraph in a prominent position. Consider using larger, boldfaced type or placing a distinct border to make the information readily apparent.
Other general tips for communicating benefits information in writing include:
  • Keep a copy of every benefits communication or disclosure given to employees, however informal.
  • Make sure no documents related to the benefits include misleading information. Request additional information from the plan administrator regarding information that you believe may be misconstrued.
  • Reserve the right as a business to amend the plan at any time for any reason. 
Summary of Benefits and Coverage
Since September 23, 2012, health insurance issuers and group health plans have been required to provide an easy-to-understand summary about the benefits and coverage of health plans.
Utilizing these simplistic health plan summaries can help you explain health benefits with your employees.

The most successful employers do the following:
  • Customize benefit plan communications and materials. Don’t rely only on the generic information provided by the insurance company; at the very least, put your practice logo on everything.
  • Ask your broker to get involved.
  • Share benchmarking data. If your benefits are richer than those offered by the average animal hospital, share this with your employees.
  • Use different media when communicating. Some staff might prefer on-demand resources (recorded videos or webinars, virtual avatars or decision-support tools, etc.), while others might prefer in-person meetings or one-on-one support.
  • Develop a benefits guide that reflects your practice’s brand and includes all benefit information in one place.
Cory Friedman is vice president of benefits consulting at Alera Group and leads Alera Veterinary, the company’s nationwide practice dedicated to serving the needs of the veterinary profession. Alera Veterinary has been AAHA’s preferred provider of employee benefit services since 2009 and is part of the VHMA’s Business Alliance Partnership. Cory and his team support hundreds of animal hospitals across the country, helping them rethink their relationship with employee benefits.


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