Open enrollment season is fast approaching, providing employers with a great opportunity for engaging their employees on their health plan offerings.
But open enrollment — even less popular than tax season — tends to put an enormous burden on HR departments.
Related: Why I dread open enrollment
Most employers need six months, if not longer, to lay the foundation for an efficient and successful open enrollment season, but for those behind schedule, fear not: There are still steps that you can take to set yourself up for open enrollment success. Here are five things you can do now to get yourself on the path toward the best open enrollment season yet:
Learn from last year’s enrollment
Look back on how your company fared during last year’s open enrollment period.
What were the most time-consuming tasks, and how can they be streamlined this year? What were the top questions asked by employees? Did you achieve your enrollment goals?
Hold a meeting with key internal and external stakeholders on the team and review what worked and what didn’t work last year. Knowing where you are, what your challenges are and will be, and where you’re on the right track will enable you to create a meaningful plan for this year.
Start with strategy
Once you know where you are, figure out where you want to be, how you’re going to get there, and how you’ll determine if you’ve achieved your goals. Make sure your strategy includes:
An assessment of all of your audiences. Remember, you’re not just communicating to employees, you’re reaching out to family members and to managers as well. Keep in mind that not every audience member has the same education level or understanding of even the most basic benefits concepts.
What’s changing. Are you adding or eliminating plans? Is cost-sharing changing? Is there a new vendor? Having a thorough understanding of what’s changing will help determine what your messaging should be.
Defining your corporate objectives. Are you looking to increase participation in a particular plan option, or shift a percentage of your population to a new plan offering? Increase participation in a wellness plan? What percentage? Define your objectives and how you plan on measuring success.
Your overall messages — and any specific messages targeted to your audiences. You may communicate differently to people already in the plan in which you want to increase participation, for example.
A schedule. People need to hear messages multiple times before they “register.” Make sure you’re communicating regularly — and thoughtfully — in the weeks leading up to, and during, the enrollment period.
Media. What messages will you deliver in print (newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides)? What should be communicated in person, through managers or one-on-one enrollment support?
Make this year’s enrollment more active
Eighty percent of Americans spend less than an hour researching benefit options, and 90 percent keep the same plan from year to year. Yet for most employees, their circumstances change annually — whether it be the number of their dependents, their overall health and health care usage or their pay.
Active enrollment — where an employee must proactively choose a plan or go without coverage — can be an important step in getting employees more engaged in their benefits.
Active enrollment has benefits for the employer as well — it provides an opportunity to collect key data (such as current dependent information) and to direct employees to the most cost-effective plans for them.
But helping employees choose the “right” plan requires a robust communication plan, combining basic information about plan options, decision-making tools that address the total cost of coverage (both premium and point-of-service costs) and even one-one-one enrollment support.
Many employees don’t have the information they need to make good decisions, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own — it must be ‘pushed’ to them.
Take demographics into consideration
When engaging employees around their benefits options, consider the wants, needs, and communication preferences of each demographic. Employees just starting their careers are the most underinsured (and generally least informed) group, often seeing student debt rather than health coverage as a more pressing priority.
A Harris/Accolade poll reveals that when results are broken out by age cohort, workers under 30 are having the greatest difficulty finding their way through the healthcare labyrinth.
Only 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so, compared to 76 percent of retirees. They also report more challenges in making the best care decisions, including understanding cost, coordinating care, choosing and understanding benefits, and finding a doctor they can relate to.
Understand the limitations of decision support tools
Decision support tools enable people to take an active role in managing their health care. While they can certainly help, remember that employees must seek them out and use them, and these tools often assume a level of benefits knowledge your employees might not have.
And, these tools recently have come under scrutiny for their ultimate lack of measurable results. To see the return on investment and value, you must also provide education and communications to provide some context for, and drive usage of, these tools.
By applying these five steps along with setting your team up with designated roles, responsibilities, and deadlines, you’re well on your way toward a more seamless, efficient and effective open enrollment period and to saving both your organization and your coworkers time and money.
But remember, benefits communication isn’t “one and done” at enrollment. You’ll need a year-round plan to help employees make good decisions about their care once they’ve chosen their coverage.