It’s that time of year when businesses start their open enrollment process for the new benefits year. Although the HR department has been working hard to get employees good coverage, the actual rollout can be troublesome and confusing if the messaging is not delivered timely and accurately to your greatest asset—human capital. Most organizations use the fourth quarter of the year to educate and enroll employees in their health care plan for the new year.
“Open enrollment is a period of time set aside by an employer to educate employees on the group benefits available to them," says Erich Sternberg, president of AlwaysCare Benefits in Baton Rouge, La. “The goal of open enrollment is to ensure that all employees receive a comprehensive overview of the benefit offerings to enable them to make informed decisions on what is best for themselves and their families. This is especially true when the employer offers voluntary benefits wherein the employee is responsible for paying the full cost of the benefit."
"An open enrollment period offers employees the opportunity to make changes to their benefits. They can add coverage, terminate their coverage, or make a change to an existing policy," Sternberg says. "Open enrollment is also a time for employers to educate their employees about any changes they may have made to their employee benefits package.”
However, some glitches can occur that create problems if the material isn't communicated well, or if benefits are too confusing to employees.
According to Donna Josephson and Pete Tobiason, owners of Rhodes-Joseph & Tobiason Advisors, The Managing Benefits Coaching and Consulting Company, “enrollment is never easy but this year, it will be even more challenging." Employees are thinking about how health care reform will impact their company benefits.
And employers, while gathering enrollment decisions for 2013, are doing so with an eye toward the changes coming in 2014. Employers are concerned about how to get benefits messages to their employees - to help them understand the value of their benefits choices while encouraging them to spend enough time to make educated decisions.
Here are some tips Rhodes-Joseph and Tobiason Advisors offer to help employers:
1) Are you ready to answer employees' questions about health care reform - the changes already in effect and those that become effective over the next few years? Employees want to know if your company intends to continue to offer medical coverage. They are reading articles and listening to commentators, and they are confused and concerned.
Tip: Employees want to hear what you're thinking. They need to know what changes you're making for 2013 and the reasons for those changes. And that you may be making different decisions for the future as more government guidance becomes available.
2) Employees need to understand the changes that are required in 2013 for their health care flexible spending account.
Tip: Highlight the new limits and rules in your enrollment communication material. Use examples.
3) During this enrollment period employers have a new opportunity to explain the value of the benefits they offer. With health care costs scheduled to be reported on most 2012 W-2 forms, employees may have heard in the media that they should expect expanded information about their medical plan costs.
Tip: Employer communications can build on this interest to demonstrate the value of health care benefits in the broader perspective of total rewards.
4) Look at today's voluntary benefits. Which of these innovative plans do you offer now, and what will you be introducing?
Tip: Employees appreciate guidance when choosing their Voluntary benefits. The "2012 Personal Managing Benefits Checklist," focused on voluntary benefits, is available upon request. Employers will also find the checklist useful to help structure a voluntary benefits program attractive to employees.
5) Wellness programs and incentives will be an important part of many open enrollment discussions this year. Numerous employers have incorporated wellness in their health care strategies.
Tip: Employers recognize that wellness features require thinking by employees that is different than the traditional enrollment and participation decisions.”
Open enrollment can be stressful, not only for HR managers and business owners, but also for employees, and for brokers who must do a good job of helping to explain benefits.
Often, one of the ways that organizations can alleviate the uncertainties related to making choices in health plans is to bring in the professionals and let them talk about the programs in a way that brings understanding and information to decision makers. Providing answers to employees helps improve the morale of the workforce, and assists in making decisions less painful.