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How to Make Open Enrollment a Breeze This Year. No, Seriously!

By Andrew MacGill | September 14, 2016 | Rally Health

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Not the holidays (though they’ll be here soon enough). We’re talking about open enrollment season! Unlike the holidays, open enrollment periods are usually filled not so much with cheer as with lots of confusing choices, paperwork, and extra hours of work for you and your employees. To help make this year’s open enrollment a little easier, we’ve put together a list of our favorite techniques to help you take some of the pain out of the process.

But first, why should you listen to me? I’ve spent the better part of the last eight years working with hundreds of clients to build products that make benefit shopping and enrollment simple with the team at Spotlite, a benefit enrollment and administration technology company that recently became part of Rally Health. When it comes to getting folks to enroll in their benefits, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Now that I’ve established my bona fides, let’s get rolling.

No. 1: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.

Before the first election is made, it’s critical that employees are informed and engaged.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Make sure you communicate with your employees about everything, from key dates (“When does open enrollment start? When does it end? When do benefits take effect?”) to any changes in your benefit offerings this year (“We’ve got a new HDHP option!”).

When employees don’t understand their choices, they have a tendency to keep the benefits they had the year before, even though those benefits might not be the best for them and their changing life circumstances. You’ve put a lot of effort into designing your plans to best meet your employees’ needs; now make sure they understand how to take advantage of them.

Communications should be simple, to the point, and delivered in everyday language. Too much information can be just as bad as too little. Health insurance is a difficult subject matter as it is, and things only get more complicated when you add in tax advantaged accounts like HSAs and FSAs, or voluntary offerings like critical illness and accident insurance.

What’s more, every employee learns differently, so make sure to offer multiple modes for employees to learn. Some might prefer a brief notification and will ask for more help if they need it, while others may need more interactivity up front. Consider things like webinars and benefits fairs for those who are more hands-on, but don’t forget the more independent types who want to learn on their own.

Consumers often look to their peers for guidance on what benefits to select, and you can help this by using “personas.” Personas are “types” of people you can use to help demonstrate different health needs, like a single guy or a mom with three kids. Basically you can say, “If you’re persona X, then plan Y might be best for you.”

Let’s look at some examples: If you’re a recent college graduate working your way up the ladder at your first job, you’ll gladly trade beer for benefits, and a higher-deductible option might be right for you. On the other hand, if you’ve been with your company for 10 years and your risk tolerance is a little lower than it used to be, a lower-deductible option might be the right answer for you and your family.

Finally, communication shouldn’t stop once open enrollment begins, so it’s critical to make sure that these modes and messages are consistent as employees begin to enroll (the right enrollment technologies can help; more on that below). Then, once open enrollment has closed, make sure employees can review the benefits they selected and how much they will cost. Perhaps most important, to fight buyer’s remorse, remind them of the value of their benefits package.

No. 2: Show them what they’re getting.

As the cost of health insurance rises, benefits are an increasingly significant part of employee compensation, and it’s important for your team to understand what their benefits are really worth. In a world of stagnant wages, awareness of the dollars and cents you’re spending on a benefits package can make the difference between a satisfied and a dissatisfied employee. That’s why it’s important to draw attention to the contributions your company makes.

For example, employees with families contribute an average of $4,316 toward their total premium of $15,745. That’s an $11,429 annual bonus that you’re offering employees, and they may not even realize it! According to the Social Security Administration, the average annual wage in the United States is $46,481, so those are meaningful dollars.

No. 3. Use technology to make everyone’s life easier.

Finally, when it comes to the actual act of enrollment, make sure you offer a digital means to do so — it’s 2016, and I think we can safely say that the internet is here to stay.

Maybe you’re still using paper forms, and if that’s the case, it’s worth noting that paper forms are wasteful (think about the trees!) and create unnecessary administration. Paper forms can lead to errors, as they don’t enforce your rules around class carve outs and eligibility, for example. What’s more, paper forms can’t educate or guide your employees during the enrollment process to help them select the right coverage for themselves and their families.

Maybe you provide live onsite enrollment using enrollers, and if that’s the case, I ask you to consider the costs associated with pulling employees away from their jobs to go through the enrollment process. Also consider that some of the products promoted by these live enrollers may include significant commissions for themselves, so your people could wind up enrolled and paying for products they may not really need.

If your organization is part of the approximately 55 percent of employers that use a digital enrollment solution — and congratulations if you are! — there are a lot of options out there. Our advice: Select a technology platform that is built for the end user, makes enrollment simple, doesn’t create more questions, and actively recommends benefits to employees to make sure they don’t end up over- or under-insured. Talk to your broker or your health insurance representative about options they may offer at no cost to you.

And finally, since I was part of the team that built Rally Choice, I’m not afraid to do a little shameless plugging: If you’re looking for an open enrollment technology solution that includes simple and effective communication tools and helps employees find the best plans for them, Rally Choice is a great option.

Andrew MacGill is VP of Product Strategy at Rally Health.

 

Andrew MacGill
Rally Health