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How to Make the Open Enrollment Process Smoother - For You and Your Employees

professional skills

Open enrollment doesn't have to be all hassles and headaches for you or your employees. Starting the process early, educating yourself and your employees, and maintaining an open line of communication can help the entire process run smoother.

Open Enrollment

If you find yourself dreading open enrollment, don't worry you're not alone. It's a time of year that can create a lot of stress and anxiety for many in HR especially HR managers. But, it doesn't have to be that way. With a solid plan of action in place to start the process early, to educate yourself and your employees thoroughly, and to communicate efficiently you can make the open enrollment process smoother.

Action Plan

Develop a Plan of Action

Developing a timeline and plan of action for the open enrollment process is one of the main tools needed to ensure a smooth open enrollment. Before you get started, step back and plan out the steps that need to be taken and the timeline in which they should occur. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has prepared several resources and guides to help you along the way. They have even outlined a time frame and coinciding action points for a smooth open enrollment process. Here's what their suggested plan of action and time frame looks like:

  • Plan 3 months to analyze employee and dependent data from the open enrollment period.
  • Plan another 3 months to shop around for new insurance rates and providers.
  • Plan 3 months to review competitive quotes, choose a provider, and implement those changes into the new open enrollment cycle.
  • This leaves 3 months of 'respite' time or downtime to think about the process for the following year.

Obviously, you will be working on several other HR tasks during this time period, but this is a general idea of what you're looking at when it comes to the open enrollment process and time frame you have to work with.

Start the Process Early

Now that you have a timeline and action steps laid out, you can get started on the process. Art Brooks, vice president of sales for BeneTrac recently shared with SHRM his insights for setting the open enrollment process into action. He recommends starting early in the year if not right after the close of the previous open enrollment. ''The decision-making process regarding whether to stay with the current benefit package or go with something new should be ongoing,'' says Brooks. As soon as you close one open enrollment process, start analyzing the data gathered and take an in-depth look at the options employees and their dependents chose in terms of health, vision, dental, and even retirement plans. For instance, capturing enrollment data can reveal how many employees are selecting low premium and high-deductible health plans versus high premium and low-deductible health plans. As Brooks points out, this data ''can help determine whether an organization is meeting the needs of its workforce adequately.'' In other words, does your current benefits package meet the needs of your employees or do you believe a better more competitive package may be available for the next year?

If you think you can do better the next time around, then start the process immediately that way you'll have plenty of time to shop around, negotiate better premiums, and present employees with the changes well ahead of the next open enrollment. ''Many managers find that six months in advance is not too early to being surveying the market,'' says Brooks.

Educate

Educate Yourself and Your Employees

Once you've found a benefits package provider to go with, start reviewing the materials including a breakdown of the plan options, important terms that employees need to take note of, coverage dates, network of providers, the small fine print and more. It's important that you educate yourself and are familiar with the plan options and breakdowns inside and out. Don't assume your employees known anything about health insurance. Even though they may have been signed up with the benefits package for years now, you should still be prepared to answer the most basic and the most difficult questions. '' Understand the options so they can be clearly explained to employees,'' says Matt Straz, Founder and CEO of Namely (an HR and payroll platform). Prepping yourself for the slew of questions that are sure to come from employees can help save time in the long run.

After you've reviewed all of the material, start planning meetings and sessions with employees where you will be able to share with them the main points of the new benefits package. ''Open enrollment is likely one of the most complicated decisions your employees encounter in a year. It can be intimidating, stressful and downright overwhelming,'' says Benefits expert Logan Butler of Benefitfocus.

The 2017 Aflac WorkForces Report states:

  • 83% of employees spend no more than an hour looking through their enrollment packets.
  • 92% aren't sure what to choose so they pick the same plan options as the previous year.

PLOS ONE reports:

  • 80% of Americans actually enroll in health plans that do not match their healthcare needs.

Policygenious.com reports:

  • 4% of employees understand terms such as deductible, out of pocket maximum, co-pay and coinsurance.

Employees need to be educated on what they're looking at and how to choose what type of benefits best suits them and their families. Whether the plan changes or stays the same, it's important to inform employees what open enrollment means to them and how they can participate and be active in adding coverage, chasing coverage, terminating coverage and more. You'll find the education process will run smoother when communication is clear and to the point.

Communicate

Communicate Efficiently

You can start educating employees by keeping the lines of communication open and accessible throughout the entire process. This means keeping your employees informed every step of the way including at the beginning when you're starting your search for new insurance providers. Whether you send out an e-mail, a memo, or announce it at a routine staff meeting, give employees a heads up you are looking for new providers. Use this as an opportunity to filter any questions on why the search for new providers and how employees will be affected. There's no time for these questions to come up during the actual meeting with the new provider representatives. Handle this particular question and answer session early in the game.

Set Up Meetings

You will need to follow up non-personal communication with face to face meetings throughout the process as well. ''It's not enough to post documents or information internally,'' says Matt Straz of Namely. ''Set up a meeting with employees personally, deliver the information and answer relevant questions.'' Inform employees at least three weeks ahead of time that a benefits informational meeting is coming up. Send out weekly reminders as well. You can help encourage employee participation in the meetings by providing snacks or evening providing lunch to those who attend. ''Not many employees are on top of benefits,'' says Straz, ''but everyone shows up for free food.''

Encourage Employees to do Their Homework

As mentioned before, you will need to educate employees on the open enrollment process and what they're looking at within their benefits packets. As soon as you receive and review the packet information, get a copy into each employee's hand. After going over the main parts of the packet and answering questions, encourage employees to take the packet home and do their homework that way when they come together again for meetings with the actual provider representatives they will know what to ask.

HR expert Susan Heathfield interviewed Erich Sternberg of AlwaysCare Benefits in an article for thebalance.com and asked him to share his thoughts on the open enrollment process. Sternberg recommends encouraging employees to not only review their benefits packets on their own but also with family members that will be covered as well. It's important for employees to take a look at current and past healthcare needs and expenses to determine what kind of coverage will be a better fit. Remind employees to take a look with finances in mind and remember to take into account the healthcare needs, the value of the benefits being offered, premium costs, co-pays, and how much they believe they will be spending. Weighing the options ahead of time gives them the opportunity to form decisions and questions if needed prior to the meeting with the representative.

Technology in HR

Make Use of New Technology

HR software, analytic programs, and even apps on mobile devices can all be used to help the open enrollment process run smoother. Technology can work for you and your employees. As a representative of web-based electronic enrollment and employee benefits, Art Brooks shared in his SHRM article the importance of technology and new software apps for HR managers. In his line of work he has seen HR managers using apps, calendars and analytic software to establish open enrollment processes electronically. For instance, meetings can be scheduled and e-mail reminders can be sent to keep employees informed. Analytic apps and automated open enrollment systems can make tracking and analyzing employee data much more efficient and can save time.

Even automated enrollment can help HR Managers monitor which employees have completed their enrollment packages and which have not. Submitting enrollment forms electronically speeds up the process of securing enrollment as well. This also enables HR Managers and even employees themselves to go in and make necessary changes immediately.

It's important to remember that many of today's employees are coming from a younger generation that utilizes technology to navigate through life at work and home. Logan Butler with Benefitfocus suggests going mobile to help employees understand the benefit options available to them and to choose what they want to be in their package. ''Personalizing your enrollment experience isn't just about the tools you provide,'' says Butler. ''It's also about understanding how your employees operate when making buying decisions.'' For instance, many of today's employees are using their phones or mobile devices to shop for cars, clothes, even home mortgages. ''If your employees can use their mobile devices for those traditionally complex processes,'' says Brooks, ''wouldn't it only make sense for them to be able to use them to enroll in their benefits?''

Success

Ready, Set, Go

Open enrollment will always be a process, but it can be an easy one when HR managers develop a plan of action that includes starting the process early, educating all parties involved, communicating efficiently through regular meetings, and using technology to make the process timely and user-friendly. With these tools, you're all set to get up and get started towards making the next open enrollment process a smooth success.

By Amanda Johnson
March 2018
professional skills recruitment & compensation

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