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Gundars Kaupins: Simplify benefit summaries for employees

I confess I have not been the most diligent expert on my health, pension, Medicare, Medicaid, metacarpal and meta-whatchamacallit plans. I am not even that familiar with my relatives’ plans. My sign-up, pay-up and dummy-up approach has worked well so far.

At least until my father’s health severely declined. His hospitalization was paid for by some cool benefit and the new facility he is in is was paid for by Medicare for the first 20 days. The next 80 days are partially paid for by Medicaid based on how much health improvement occurs. My father also has some supplemental long-term benefit to take care of those 80 days. What happens after that? Help!

I think most people like me coast along with their benefits without really knowing what to do once they are really needed. There is always an evil HR department or government entity that screws up and does not meet my immediate ignorant benefit needs. How can such evil best serve the dumbfounded like me?

On the Web, some major companies in Boise have clickable topics such as dental plans, uniforms and long-term care benefits. Once you click on a topic, you end up reading a million pages of complicated, lawyer-like materials that only a genius maniac can understand. I can’t read such versions of my benefits package, but I can certainly follow six simple steps on how to use a particular benefit.

For example, I could click on “long-term care benefits.” After the click, I would see one page on how to apply for and use such benefits in six-and-a-half easy steps. If I want to become a Ph.D. on long-term care, I would click on the 500-page detailed version.

Readability is another important benefit communication factor. Eighth-to-10th grade reading levels for newspaper articles and benefits packages are ideal. However, I analyzed a few benefits packages from local major companies and found 14th-grade reading levels. You can test your benefits packages yourself for free at reliability-score.com. By the way, this newspaper column is at the 9th-grade level. I hope you can read it.

If the multitiered, plain-language approach to benefits explanations on the Web does not work, the obvious solution is to have HR quickly respond to desperate employee phone calls, emails, texts or face-to-face. Employees sometimes need to be spoon-fed.

By the way, I got spoon-fed information from my father’s hospital social worker on Medicare and other health options for him. Home-health care and assisted living are among the several options for his future.

The bottom line is that benefits communication should be geared for the intelligence and laziness of the employee. The Web is a good starting place to communicate with such employees. It should have tiers of detail and a language level that can be read by mere mortals. Your company might form a committee or find a linguist to make the benefits package easier to understand.

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