Open Enrollment Detox: How to Recover and Improve

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Open enrollment can be a challenging and busy time for HR, and from the employee perspective, open enrollment can be confusing and complicated.

According to Aflac Inc., 48 percent of employees would rather do something uncomfortable like walk across hot coals than complete the benefits enrollment process. Aflac found that 93 percent of employees keep the same coverage from year to year. Even when a better option is available, employees may default to keeping an existing plan if they aren't aware of the ramifications of each choice.

Reach Out to Stakeholders for Feedback

Each organization's experience with open enrollment is different, so personalized feedback from your employees is a good place to start. Did your employees think they had enough time to complete the process? Did they understand the benefits information? Did they have enough plan options to choose from? Or, were there too many? Decision fatigue can be overwhelming. Did they feel supported by HR before and during the process? Were changes well-received?

When gathering feedback from employees, consider gauging their level of interest in new and unique benefits that haven't traditionally been offered. Things like pet insurance, student loan repayment programs, employer-funded continuing education programs, gym memberships, adoption assistance programs, public transportation passes and employee discount programs could be the key to piquing employees' interest in your overall benefits package.

Gathering information from your HR team can provide another important perspective. Did the team feel swamped during open enrollment? Did employees wait until the last minute to request additional information? Were employees overwhelmed by the benefits enrollment process and communicating that to HR?

Help Employees Understand Their Benefits

A big part of the problem is an information gap. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reports that only 19 percent of employers feel that their employees have a "high level of understanding" of their benefits. They found that 80 percent of employers report that their employees don't open or read their benefits information.

Bridging that gap is a perennial challenge for HR leaders. To that end, it's useful to focus on communicating benefits information in a variety of formats. Packets of information in employee mailboxes may work for some employees, but various approaches are necessary in order to reach everyone. In-person communications, perhaps with small groups of employees, can help to ensure that employees understand their options and the enrollment process. Online decision support tools and videos are also good options.

Interactive Decision Support Tools

Can you provide your employees with interactive decision support tools, personalized to reflect each employee's prior utilization of benefits? If it's not possible to include individualized prior utilization data, consider an online decision support tool that provides customized plan recommendations based on an employee's answers to questions about current and projected utilization of health care. This type of tool is increasingly being used by the ACA exchanges to help consumers make sense of things like provider networks and prescription drug formularies. Employees who face multiple plan options need similar support.

There are a variety of interactive decision support tools that HR leaders can create or outsource, depending on their budget and plan offerings. Some or all of these might help your employees make sense of their options:

  • A calculator that lets employees see side-by-side comparisons of their projected out-of-pocket costs under the various health plans available to them
  • A calculator for FSA or HSA contributions, ideally one that allows employees to incorporate projected future costs along with actual costs from prior years
  • A drug formulary comparison tool that allows employees to input their current or expected medications, and shows them how each available plan would cover them
  • A tool that allows employees to compare plans based on provider networks, preferably with the ability to input their own doctors and see what plans include them in the network
  • A tool that lets employees see how participation in your wellness program would impact them

The scope of the tools you offer will depend on factors that are unique to your organization, but anything you can do to help employees see the relevance of your benefits package may help them make better enrollment decisions and feel more satisfied with their overall compensation.

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