According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 51% of employees are satisfied with their employer-sponsored health benefits. Therefore, making the open enrollment process as easy for employees as possible is crucial. However, many HR professionals dread company open enrollment, often citing it as chaotic and unorganized. If HR isn’t looking forward to the open enrollment season, how will they motivate their workforce to enroll in benefits in the first place?
We asked ourselves this same question as we saw HR professionals struggling with open enrollment nationwide. So, we decided to end HR’s open enrollment struggles once and for all. We pulled together our best open enrollment tips for employers to make this process easier.
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. However, 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.
How Does Open Enrollment Work?
Once employers receive insurance rates from their brokers, they plan a health insurance enrollment period. Next, employers initiate the open enrollment process and work with their employees to enroll 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. Then, employers 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 invest more 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 healthy and ill individuals sign up for health plans simultaneously. This process minimizes the risk of sick-only signees.
What is Open Enrollment in 2023?
The 2023 health insurance enrollment window begins on Monday, November 1, and most states have slated it to end on Wednesday, December 15, 2023. Usually, if you don’t enroll by December 15, you can’t get coverage unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. However, some states may have later enrollment deadlines available. Once enrolled, coverage starts on January 1, 2023.
What Happens if Employees Miss Open Enrollment?
If employees miss the employer open enrollment period, they will likely have to wait until next year to sign up or make changes. However, 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. However, employees must make their selections during the open enrollment period to ensure they have the appropriate coverage during the year.
How Do I Make Open Enrollment Easier?
Open enrollment is usually a stressful season for both employers and employees. To make this process easier, consider educating employees by reviewing your benefit offerings before open enrollment starts. You can conduct an employee survey of existing benefits to see where employees need help the most.
You can also leverage a benefits specialist on your employees’ behalf. Specialists who understand various benefits can reassure employees of different offerings to make more informed decisions. Benefits specialists create a win-win scenario since the more employees you enroll, the greater the tax break for your organization.
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Essential Employer Open Enrollment Tips
Once you understand 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 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 packages information in electronic form. Some HR solutions even offer PDF templates for letters, checklists, and guides to make the process more paper-free.
Tip: 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. Therefore, 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. Provide news and insights that will help make the decision process easier for your staff. Employees typically want to know four things when it comes to benefits options:
Keep It Simple
Keep emails about open enrollment short and sweet, and ensure 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. Then, if they still need help understanding coverage options, make yourself easily accessible.
3. Implement an Open Enrollment Communication Strategy
Did you know that 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.
How Do You Engage Employees During Open Enrollment?
So, how can an employer be more active in employee benefits enrollment? First, use a targeted strategy for open enrollment communication with your employees.
We’ve put together a list of tips you can use to engage employees during open enrollment actively. Consider layering these ideas into your communication plan:
Send out a simple benefit survey to employees. Make sure to segment the surveys based on qualifying life events like 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.
You can do this with platforms like Slack, Skype, and even social media channels. One example SHRM has found incredibly 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.
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. In addition, some payroll and HR providers offer text message features so managers can schedule messages in bulk.
Consider adding an FAQ page to your company website to quickly answer commonly asked employee questions. This page can also include required notices to employees during the open enrollment so they are always in the loop.
Create messaging with a specific call-to-action notifying employees of the next steps they need to take in the open enrollment process. Ensure the actions are bold and bright, so employees can’t miss them when looking through available plans.
4. Utilize an HR Provider
Thinking about everything you need to do to prepare 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. Instead, consider using a payroll and HR provider to streamline your processes and eliminate the paper for good. Some benefits of utilizing an HR provider include:
Online open enrollment provides a more straightforward 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 benefits enrollment through carrier connections, enabling you to submit paperwork to benefit providers electronically. This secure approach to benefits administration eliminates duplicate data entry and the potential for errors. It also improves employee service by eliminating carriers’ paper forms and enrollment reports. Here’s what a typical carrier connection process looks like:
The great thing about this process is you can communicate accurately and immediately to carriers. Send employee changes directly to carriers and avoid missing future enrollments. Using an automated process to submit benefits paperwork also ensures you will not miss charges for terminated or ineligible employees. Reducing missed charges results in additional cost savings.
Fortunately, payroll and HR providers can help. Certain providers offer COBRA administration to help you mitigate compliance risks, track qualifying events, and meet coverage requirements. Some even have teams of experts on their staff.
With an HR provider, you can automate paperwork and streamline compliance in a single system, saving you time and energy. You can even combine COBRA administration with carrier connection tools and online open enrollment to streamline your entire benefits process.
Instant Employee Access
Whether checking their pending elections or accessing current benefits information, self-service tools give employees instant access to their benefits information. Regardless of where they work, employees can log in, view open enrollment messages, and make updates to personal information. In addition, employees can view different plans and enroll in the ones available. They can also look into coverage types and manage their dependents.
A streamlined benefits process supports employee initiatives while saving your workforce time. Many HR providers even have desktop and mobile app versions of their self-service platform. This accessibility on the go makes it easy for employees to view their benefits. Mobility is convenient when employees are at a doctor’s appointment or visiting the dentist.
How Do You Manage Open Enrollment?
If your process is manual, consider learning how we can help you today.
Start Preparing for Open Enrollment Today
Now is the time to start planning for open enrollment. Following these open enrollment tips for employers we have provided 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 intends to provide open enrollment tips for employers to have a successful open enrollment process. It does not offer 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
Take your open enrollment a step further with APS. We offer online benefits administration, simplified plan tracking, and COBRA administration in a unified platform. Manage all your benefit plans, including medical, dental, life, disability, and more.
APS’ Carrier Connections allows you to transmit your benefits paperwork directly to providers electronically. This direct transmission avoids dropped benefits and streames the entire approval process.
You’ll have access to an in-house team of experts dedicated to mitigating compliance risks and keeping you informed. Employees can even view the costs of different plans and coverage types, enroll in benefit plans, and manage their documents from their preferred electronic device.
Learn more about how APS can help you make this open enrollment your best one yet!