By Karen Stolen, Benefits Services Manager
Every year employers strive to make sure they’re prepared early enough for open enrollment, but how early is early? Years ago, open enrollment communications stemmed around core benefits: medical and dental coverage. Now there are a plethora of employee benefit programs that employers have deployed to employees, and the list continues to grow. Besides medical, dental, life, short and long term disability coverage, employers are talking about flexible spending accounts, benefit administration systems, pet insurance and even student loan repayment programs.
The open enrollment process seems to start earlier every year. In fact, isn’t open enrollment now a “season?” Most employers depend on their medical renewal to determine the time frame for preparation and the clock starts ticking from there until the start of open enrollment.
As you start thinking about open enrollment, this can bring on some stress, especially if you’re tackling the majority of work yourself. However open enrollment is a team effort
that should include you the employer, the carriers, and your agency partner.
Communication with your employees is the key to a successful open enrollment process. The biggest ticket item would be medical coverage. Employees will want to know what it will cost them
and what plan changes they can expect. Will you have a change in plan designs, or offer additional plans? Are you adding a Health Reimbursement Arrangement or Health Savings Account that will require additional education, or even increase employee contributions? Do you know what employee benefits your employees value the most, or have you identified how they like to be communicated with for open enrollment information?
It seems that over the past few years, technology is playing a bigger part in employee benefits than in the past. We now see payroll companies providing employers with more robust tools that assist in employer reporting responsibilities, provide employee benefit decision support tools, benefit administration systems, concierge services and more. But with all the technology, many things continue to remain the same for open enrollment. Here are some of the items to think about as you prepare:
Ancillary & voluntary lines
- Plan design changes
- Contribution changes
- Summary of Benefits Coverage
- Annual plan notices (WHCRA Notice, HIPAA Privacy Notice, Michelle’s Law, etc.)
- Notification to COBRA participants or Retirees
- Have your employees participated in your carrier’s wellness programs and need to claim rewards before the end of the year?
(Dental, Vision, Life/AD&D, Long Term Disability, Short Term Disability, Critical Illness, Accident, Cancer, Individual Disability Income)
Other employee benefits
- Do you need updated beneficiary forms from your employees?
- Does your voluntary life carrier allow for annual re-enrollment?
- If you have an Employee Assistance Program (standalone or embedded) are employees aware of the benefit and using it?
- Are your high wage earners covered appropriately under your current disability benefit plan design?
- Identity Theft
- Pet Insurance
- Student Loan Repayment Programs
- Make your communications short and to the point, using plain language not industry jargon
- Consider using decision support tools to reach all of your employees in all locations and for all shifts with the same, consistent message
- Update your company intranet or benefit administration system
- Consider using several forms of communication with your employees: Benefit Guides, Email, mail, website, payroll stuffers or social media
- Do you have multiple locations and shifts where meetings need to be held?
- Remember to invite spouses, COBRA participants or Retirees
- Engage your carrier representatives
- Provide employees with handouts and Q&A’s they can review with family members
- Be very clear with due dates for enrolling or returning forms
- Who do they hand in any paper materials to?
- Who can answer any follow up questions they have?
- Have a Benefits Fair
Strategically planning your open enrollment timeline and reviewing your checklist from year to year will identify any gaps for improvement next year. Open enrollment shouldn’t be something overwhelming and dreaded, but with the right partners and a little teamwork, this process should become easier every year.