Manage expectations

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Open enrollment is upon us! That means long days on top ofsleepless nights and weekends just to keep up with the fourthquarter rush. Despite the fact that every year we tweak and tightenour procedures to make things go smoother, we've found that there'sno avoiding the stress of enrollment. While there are certainly amultitude of moving parts in this process, many of which arecompletely outside of our control, there's always one tried andtrue practice we must keep in mind. That, of course, is managingclient expectations.

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The saying goes, “You don't know what you don't know,” butemployers do know the process of open enrollment. Yet they continueto drag their feet year after year. I get it. They're extremelybusy and insurance is the last thing they want to deal with. That'swhy it's our job as consultants to lay out a clear plan for theemployer with a list of each parties' duties. If you don't managetheir expectations through the whole process, prepare to be thrownunder the bus at every bump in the road.

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It's always best to start as early as possible in the fourthquarter. The later you start, the harder it is to fix unexpectedproblems, and you know there are always a few. We provide employerswith a timeline for each party to get tasks completed, withspecific detail and deadline dates. If the employer misses thedeadlines, then we advise them to expect delays and challenges.Always buy yourself at least a week of additional time for problemsto be resolved. If you think ID numbers will be released in a week,tell them it can take two. It's always better to underpromise andoverdeliver. If you overpromise and under- deliver when you knowit's not feasible, be prepared to have daily calls and unpleasantemails from the employer.

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In the end, the blame will usually fall on the consultant,regardless of the situation—this comes with the territory. Thatsaid, our territory must also include being proactive, organizedand ready for potential monkey wrenches. However, we're seasonedconsultants, so our experience tells us that we can have all thesepieces in place and still run into hiccups. For this reason,especially when tensions are high during open enrollment, I urgeyou to make your first line of defense a set of properly managedexpectations.

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John W. Sbrocco, CSFS, health care strategist, QuestigeConsulting

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Tinker, tailor, Plan

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1. Personalize communications to make them relevant. Onlya third of employees say their company's benefits communicationsaddress their life stage and personal situation. This may be whyonly 50 percent of employees say they're confident they made theright decisions during last year's enrollment. For brokers, thispresents an opportunity to help employers tailor theircommunications to show how benefits are relevant—whether employeesare having children, getting married, buying a new home or evencaring for an aging parent.

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2. Leverage benefit communication firms to driveparticipation and engagement. A third of employers whopartnered with a firm saw an increase in enrollment, according toMetLife's enrollment research. Of these, a third saw increases ofmore than 20 percent on average in high-deductible health plans,voluntary and wellness benefits. Brokers should view benefitcommunication firms as valuable resources in helping employersdrive increased participation and overall employee engagement.

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3. Make financial wellness a priority. When designed andimplemented well, financial wellness programs can addressemployees' specific financial concerns. Brokers have anopportunity, especially during enrollment, to help remind employeesabout the value of this resource when it comes to identifyingbenefits that meet their needs. And, if employers don't yet offer acomprehensive financial wellness program, it's a key time to beginplanning for the year ahead.

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Randy Stram, senior vice president, group benefits,MetLife

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FSAs and HSAs

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Brokers and their clients can maximize enrollment inconsumer-driven benefits and help employees become savvy healthcare shoppers during open enrollment by communicating the followinginformation to employees:

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1. The key benefits of opening an account. There are afew key benefits that employees should be aware of, including:

  • Triple-tax savings;

  • Convenience;

  • Meeting out-of-pocket maximums, copays and coinsurance;

  • Supplementing health plan coverage;

  • Saving for “big ticket” items; and

  • Saving for expenses in retirement.

2. How to maximize contributions. Start by educatingemployees about the current contribution limits, the tax benefitsof funding their accounts, and relevant employer matching, andtools available to help them estimate their annual health careneeds. Consider directing employees to an online FSA or HSAcalculator to help them plan their contributions and estimatesavings.

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3. What, if any, spending deadlines apply. If the FSA hasa spending deadline, be sure to communicate that clearly toemployees. You will want to take time to clarify any extensionsthat you offer, as well, such as a carryover option, a graceperiod, or a run-out period.

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4. How to track expenses throughout the year. Encourageemployees to anticipate potential expenses and connect them withonline tools that can help them track their spending as the yearprogresses so they avoid any surprises at year end.

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5. How to invest HSA funds. If the HSA comes with aninvestment platform, be sure employees understand how this featureworks and how it might benefit them.

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6. What is an eligible expense? The list of eligibleproducts and services for FSAs and HSAs includes many unexpecteditems. Helping employees understand what's eligible enables them tomake wise use of their accounts for timely, personally relevantproducts and services.

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7. How to save time and reduce health care paperwork.Employees can save time and eliminate paperwork by using an FSA orHSA debit card. Because it links directly to an individual'saccount, they do not need to file a claim for reimbursement.

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Jeremy Miller, founder & president,FSAstore.com/HSAstore.com

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Break it down

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1. Plan early and understand your clients' objectives so thatyou can bring appropriate solutions.

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2. Deliver communications in bite-sized pieces for constituentsto understand at a scheduled frequency.

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3. Build support at the executive level, especially if you areimplementing new solutions.

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4. Debrief following open enrollment to ensure goals andobjectives were met and lessons learned are discussed.

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Cara A. Kirsch, vice president, SilverStone Group

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Early and Often

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One of the most critical components of a successful enrollmentis the employee experience. Ask clients: Do your employees knowwhere and how to enroll? Do they know the deadline? Can theyquickly and easily access the site? Is there a centralized locationwhere employees can find information? Is it in a format that theemployee can easily share with his or her significant other? Howcan the experience be simplified (autofill fields, centralizedenrollment center, etc.)?

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Support employees through enrollment by tracking their progress.Send additional support through a follow-up email that containsinformation such as how much time is remaining to enroll, contactinformation for questions and any additional information they needto complete the forms, as well as a value-proposition infographicto remind them of the savings.

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Start the education process before enrollment with educationaltools, lunch and learns and webinars. In materials, be sure toanswer how voluntary programs complement the core offerings, whythey may need certain benefits and the value of the programs. Lookto use new technology tools that can give employees instant accessto benefit information on an opt-in basis.

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Peter Marcia, CEO, YouDecide

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Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is the editor-in-chief of BenefitsPRO Magazine and BenefitsPRO.com. He has covered the insurance industry for more than a decade, including stints at Retirement Advisor Magazine and ProducersWeb.