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How to minimize disruption when switching employee health care plans

So, you’ve done your homework on the various kinds of health care plans to cover your employees. You’ve researched plan providers and finally settled on one that fits your company’s budget and provides the kind of benefits your people want and need.  All that’s left to do is sign the contract. Congratulations! Your work is done, right?   

Not so fast.

When it comes to successfully implementing a switch to a new employee healthcare plan, your work is actually just beginning on the next phase of the process.  That’s minimizing any disruption the change will cause in your company.

As we all know, health care coverage is one of the most important benefits your company offers its employees.  In many cases, the kind of coverage a plan provides to workers who are dealing with serious health issues can literally be a matter of life and death.  There’s a lot at stake.  So, it’s understandable that any change in health care coverage – even if it ends up being for the better – is going to be cause for concern. That concern can play out as a simple distraction in the workplace or the reason that a valued employee decides to stay or leave your company, so it pays to do whatever you can to ease the transition.

Fortunately, there are some practical change management strategies that you can put into action well before the actual switch occurs.

“At the heart of it,” says Jody Hudson, Senior Learning & Organizational Effectiveness Consultant for Kaiser Permanente’s Mid-Atlantic States Region, “is the question employees will inevitably be asking, ‘What does this mean for me? Is this a good or bad thing?’”

Addressing this question upfront is essential to alleviating concerns and controlling the message.  For example, the plan you’ve chosen might offer better benefits, but will have higher out of pocket costs.  The process should begin by conducting a “stakeholder analysis”, so you know what barriers you’re going to have to overcome with different people in your organization.

“The goal of change management is to make people comfortable with what is changing,” adds Ashley Brown, Consultant, Learning and Organization Effectiveness at Kaiser Permanente’s Mid-Atlantic Region.  “The biggest part of this is being clear and more importantly letting people know why you’re making a change. People are more receptive to the change if they understand both the benefits to them as well as the problem the change is solving.” 

According to Hudson, a helpful guide to effective change management is the ADKAR Model, “It’s an acronym that represents the five concrete outcomes that people need to achieve for lasting change. Those outcomes are Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. Outlining the goals of a successful switch to a new company health plan will help you plan change management activities, equip your leaders who are facilitating the change, and support your employees throughout process.”

And remember, nobody likes surprises.  Making sure employees understand the path you’re taking, how you’re getting there, and what the end state looks like will help reduce the anxiety of the unknown. That includes keeping all levels of management in the loop.

“It’s super important to train up the chain of command so that immediate supervisors can answer questions – upfront and during the process,” says Brown. “Making sure this foundation is in place is important to providing the perspective that the change is well thought out. And, it gives confidence to managers by allowing them to be part of the process.”

Perhaps most important of all, the change needs to be owned and delivered by your company’s leadership, not an HR representative.  

“Your employees need to understand that this is a business initiative, not an HR initiative,” says Hudson.  “How a company handles this change has a massive impact on the perception of how the company is managed— it affects whether or not employees trust their leaders.”

So once the change has been announced and the forms and information packets on the new plan have been handed out, you’re done?  

Not quite yet.

Too often, companies announce a change and that’s the last employees hear of it.  Don’t make that mistake.  Brown recommends that after you switch your plan, do three things: 1) Make it crystal clear exactly what is changing. 2) Make it extremely easy for employees to access the information they need and take any necessary actions. Employee benefits are too important to risk being unclear about what your people should do and how they should do it. 3) Provide a place to go to raise concerns. Have open doors and dialogues about challenges that people are having.

She also says that, “It’s good to celebrate the progress at specific milestones by doing things like having an employee lunch or distributing healthy treats when everyone is finally enrolled. You also should take time to reinforce the idea that switching to the new plan was a good decision so employees don’t revert to thinking about the way things used to be. If possible, try to have a measurement to understand adoptability.  If it’s low, there are things that Kaiser Permanente can do, like providing more training, to help your employees take advantage of all the benefits that are offered by your new plan.”

They say that change is good. And with the right preparation and follow up, changing to a better health care plan can be one of the best things you can do for your employees and your company.