Open Enrollment 2021: Everything You Need To Know
2020 has brought several changes to the way we do things. Football season looks different, and school is a combination of virtual and mask-covered faces. One thing that has not changed is the challenges of open enrollment. Company open enrollment can be chaotic and unorganized for HR managers. To make this process easier, we have pulled together our best open enrollment tips for employers.
What Is Open Enrollment?
Open enrollment is the period when people can enroll in a health insurance plan. It happens yearly, usually in the late fall. You’re eligible to enroll outside of the open enrollment season if certain life events occur, such as marriage, childbirth, loss of health coverage, etc.
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How Does Open Enrollment Work?
Once employers receive insurance rates from their brokers, they plan a health insurance enrollment period. Employers initiate the open enrollment process and work with their employees to get them enrolled in a health insurance plan for the year. Insurance open enrollment can also include vision, dental, and disability plans. This process usually lasts between two and four weeks.
Once employees make their selections and the health insurance open enrollment period closes, employers must communicate those changes to the benefit providers. Employers either send physical paperwork or electronically transmit benefits information to the brokers.
Why Is There An Open Enrollment Period?
Have you ever tried to sign up for health insurance to be told you have to wait for open enrollment? Open enrollment exists because health insurance companies have to take in more money in premiums each year than they pay out in claims.
For that to happen, providers must have more healthy members than sick members. An enrollment period ensures that both healthy and ill individuals sign up for health plans simultaneously. This process minimizes the risk of sick-only signees.
What Is The Open Enrollment Period for 2021?
The 2021 health insurance enrollment window begins on Sunday, November 1, and ends on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. Coverage starts on January 1, 2021. If you don’t enroll in a plan by December 15, you can’t get 2021 coverage unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
What Happens If Employees Miss Open Enrollment?
If employees miss the employer open enrollment period, they will more than likely have to wait until next year to sign up or make changes. If they cannot wait, employees can enroll in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace if they are eligible for Medicare or CHIP benefits.
If an employee experiences a qualifying life event, they can change their health insurance outside of open enrollment season. Employees need to make their selections during the open enrollment period to ensure they have the appropriate coverage during the year.
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Essential Employer Open Enrollment Tips
Once you have met the employer open enrollment requirements, the next step is preparing for open enrollment. Here are some open enrollment tips for employers, so you can make it a smooth and efficient process for everyone.
1. Ditch the Paper Process
You might be used to offering seminars and one-on-one sessions to get documented benefit information into employees’ hands. While this is a beneficial way to communicate information to employees, in-person sessions and paper documents aren’t ideal during a pandemic. Most states have restrictions on the number of workers that can be present in one location. Meanwhile, several employees are working from home.
To navigate open enrollment efficiently this year, consider offering a virtual “benefits cafe.” Invite employees to pour themselves a cup of coffee at home and listen in on a Zoom, Google Hangout, Webex, or Webinar meeting. Encourage your employees to consider any health or relationship changes that occurred during the year before making benefits selections. Use this time to discuss any changes and steps needed to make informed elections.
If you’re using an HR software or intranet, offer all benefits information in electronic form. Some HR solutions even offer PDF templates for letters, checklists, and guides to make the process more paper-free.
Tip: Make sure to check the Department of Labor’s safe harbor guidelines for electronic retirement plan communications rules. Depending on employee preferences, you might be required to mail a paper copy of the open enrollment guide to select employees’ homes.
2. Be Concise
According to Unum’s study, 22% of employees are confused during open enrollment, 20% are anxious, and 21% are stressed. Often, information overload causes confusion. After all, open enrollment has many moving parts, including choosing plans, communicating with employees, and fielding questions. Managers need to be concise throughout the open enrollment process to avoid confusion and chaos:
Provide Clear Details
Send an open enrollment announcement to employees, so they know what to expect in the coming weeks. Employees typically want to know four things when it comes to benefits options:
- Why do I need coverage?
- Which features fit my needs?
- What values does the program provide?
- How much is this going to cost me per paycheck?
Keep It Simple
Keep emails about open enrollment short and sweet, and make sure the language you’re using is easy to understand. If you’re using HR software, make all related benefits documentation available to your employees to answer their questions.
Use Available Resources
If your benefits brokers offer employee-facing resources like handouts and FAQs, make those available to your staff. You can even provide employees with a glossary of benefit terms and acronyms to reference if they have any questions. If they still need help understanding coverage options, make yourself easily accessible.
3. Implement an Open Enrollment Communication Strategy
Did you know, 35% of employees have little to no understanding of their healthcare coverage? Furthermore, 62% feel their employer doesn’t serve as a resource for their healthcare-related questions. So, how can an employer be more active in employee benefits enrollment? Use a targeted strategy for open enrollment communication with your employees. Here are some ideas you can include in your communication plan:
Provide Surveys to Employees
Send out a simple benefit survey to employees. Segment the surveys based on qualifying life events such as job descriptions, salary, job location, age, number of dependents, marital status, etc. This approach will give you a better picture of what employees with similar lifestyles need.
Then, recommend available plans that fit each lifestyle grouping. For example, a young, single employee doesn’t need the same benefits plan as an employee close to retiring.
Create a Chat Channel
You can do this with platforms like Slack, Skype, and even social media channels. One example SHRM has found particularly successful is having a Twitter chat, where employees can tweet benefits questions to HR. The entire thread is trackable through a designated hashtag, so other employees can easily find all the topics discussed.
Send Text Message Updates
Sending text messages with links to important information is another effective way to keep your employees in the loop. This communication method is also helpful when sending open enrollment reminders to employees. Some payroll and HR providers offer text message features so managers can schedule messages in bulk.
Consider FAQ Pages
Consider adding an FAQ page to your company website to provide quick answers to commonly asked employees questions. This page can also include required notices to employees during open enrollment, so they are always in the loop.
Create Call To Actions
4. Utilize An HR Provider
Thinking about everything that you need to do to get ready for open enrollment can be stressful. However, there is no need to drown in mounds of paperwork or deal with endless communications streams to carriers. Consider using a payroll and HR provider to streamline your processes and get rid of the paper for good. Some benefits of utilizing an HR provider include:
Online open enrollment provides a simpler process for employees to elect and update their benefits selections. Staff can log into an employee self-service site and follow guided prompts that walk them through their plan options and costs. Some HR solutions even offer instructional information during each step to help employees make their choices.
HR software also assists in managing open enrollment requirements for employers. This automation reduces manual processes for managers, so you focus more on your workforce and less on paperwork.
Some HR providers offer automated feeds with benefits providers. This secure approach eliminates duplicate data entry and the potential for errors. Here’s what a typical process looks like:
- An employee completes online open enrollment in employee self-service.
- The HR manager reviews the pending elections for any changes needed.
- Once approved, those benefits selections are updated on the employee’s record.
- The updated information is then synced to the benefits provider and updated in their system.
Using an automated process to submit benefits paperwork also ensures you will not miss charges for terminated or ineligible employees, resulting in additional cost savings.
An essential part of managing your company benefits is COBRA administration. Certain providers offer COBRA administration and even have compliance experts on staff. COBRA administration can help mitigate compliance risks, track qualifying events, and meet coverage requirements. When used in conjunction with online enrollment and carrier connection tools, you can create a streamlined benefits administration process.
Instant Employee Access
Whether checking their pending elections or accessing current benefits information, self-service tools give employees instant access no matter where they work. Employees can log in, view open enrollment messages, and make updates to personal information.
Many HR providers offer both a desktop and mobile app version. This accessibility on the go makes it easy for employees to view their benefits when at a doctor’s appointment.
Start Preparing for Open Enrollment Today
Now is the time to start planning for open enrollment. When you follow the open enrollment tips for employers we have provided, you can improve your employees’ overall open enrollment experience. With a streamlined communication strategy and paperless process, you’ll quickly and efficiently get information into employees’ hands. Meanwhile, an HR provider can help you gain peace of mind through employee benefit access, accurate data, reduced compliance risks, and carrier connections.
Disclaimer: This article intended to provide open enrollment tips for employers so they can have a successful open enrollment process. It is not intended to provide advice on benefits offerings or legislation. APS does not provide ASO or PEO services. Our platform assists with benefits administration, open enrollment, carrier integrations, and COBRA administration. If you need assistance with evaluating benefit offerings and compliance with legislation, please contact your broker or HR consultant.
How APS Can Help
APS offers online benefits administration, which simplifies plan tracking and management. This includes medical, dental, life, and disability plans. With Carrier Connections, you can electronically transmit your benefits paperwork directly to providers, avoiding dropped benefits, and streamlining the approval process. Take your benefits administration a step further with COBRA Administration. You’ll have access to an in-house team of experts dedicated to mitigating compliance risks and keeping you informed.
Employees can easily view the costs of different plans and coverage types, enroll in benefit plans, and manage their documents all from their preferred electronic device.
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