How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment

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As the season of barbecues and pool parties fades, employee benefits warriors like you are preparing for the biggest event of the year: open enrollment.

Open enrollment is the culmination of months of work. No one will dispute that much of the heavy lifting occurs early in the year when the focus is on strategic planning, adjusting plan designs, and pricing. Concurrently, you need to tackle the tactical portion of enrollment: communications and the mechanics of how employees will enroll.

Having done the strategic planning, the question becomes: How can you ensure enrollment is a success?

Take a deep breath and consider the following:

Education 101

Respect your audience. You may have spent months living and breathing this information, but your employees have not. You need to convey the message surrounding your benefits package in a thoughtful, purposeful manner. The key is pre-open enrollment education.

Take a fresh look at your benefits package. What are the key messages your employees want to know about it? Before it’s time to enroll, provide your employees with the following information:

  1. Any new benefits plans and why they should be considered
  2. Changes to current benefits plans since last year, if any
  3. Key benefits plan features
  4. Any potential savings to the employee

By providing this information ahead of time, you can relieve employee stress and enhance their experience come open enrollment. This way, employees are not inundated with pages of open enrollment materials just prior to the period when they have to make benefit elections.

As summer closes, alert employees that they will receive a series of communications discussing what they should consider and expect when open enrollment arrives. For example, notify employees now about how communications will be rolled out and the dates for open enrollment. Every week or two, deliver communications covering different topics. The first could highlight new benefits and approximate costs, the second could describe existing benefits and any changes, etc. Overall, the communications should prepare employees with any information they need in advance of annual enrollment, including any information they will need to have at hand when actually enrolling.

To ensure that your communications address diverse populations, use multiple means of media, such as intranet banners, eBooks, emails, digital message boards, and more. For some industries, hardcopy posters still work. Never underestimate the power of webinars, town hall meetings, and the like.

Remember: There is no such thing as overcommunication, provided it’s clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Delivering the Promise: Enrollment Logistics Explained

Determining how employees will enroll is critical. A successful enrollment process must be accessible and simple. Most organizations conduct annual enrollment using single, centralized online platforms, as they offer enhanced accessibility and are generally operational 24/7. This allows employees and their family members to review options together and elect coverage that meets their needs.

In our experience, the most successful enrollments ensure that all benefits appear together. This means that voluntary benefits are integrated with core benefits and ordered appropriately. For example, if you are offering medical, critical illness, and hospital indemnity insurance, you should group them together so employees can understand the synergy that exists among these benefits. In this case, if the medical plan had high out-of-pocket expenses (such as a $1,500 deductible and $3,000 out-of-pocket maximum), the lump sum benefit available through the hospital indemnity insurance could help offset these expenses. Having all this information on hand at once would help employees understand how each benefit works together with the others to provide financial protection.

If there are no significant benefit changes, a passive enrollment is common. This means employees who want the same coverage they currently have don’t need to take any action; their coverage is automatically renewed for the next plan year. The only exceptions to this are flexible spending accounts, which require employees to enroll each year. If broad benefit changes or new medical plans are introduced, you may want to consider an active enrollment. This requires action on the employee’s part to elect or not elect each benefit.

When designing an online enrollment platform, provide employees with enough information so they can enroll with confidence. A great platform should be personalized and display pricing specific to each employee. The system should also generate a confirmation statement for the employee so they have a record of what they elected.

With so much invested in open enrollment, it’s important to ensure employees have the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Peter Marcia is CEO of YouDecide.

By Peter Marcia