Why everyone needs a benefits enrollment buddy

Grace Campagna

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Consider this scenario. You’re about to go rafting down a river and you’re given these instructions:

  1. Put on your life vest.
  2. Get in the boat.
  3. Point the vessel downstream.
  4. Row until you get to the end.

Sounds easy enough, right? But the problem with deceptively simple instructions is that they fail to take into account the sometimes intricate subtleties that can make or break an experience. For example, what if you failed to secure one of the straps on the life vest? What if you didn’t know what to do when you hit rapids?

Everyone needs an expert to help them navigate turbulent waters. You wouldn’t raft the Colorado River without a river guide, would you?

It’s no different when asking your employees to sign up for employee health benefits.

Employees are the most important assets of your company and you want them to feel confident that they’re making the right decisions regarding benefits. As their guide, you want to help them navigate the waters and get them to the finish line safely with smiles on their faces.

Many employers are moving to an online self-service model for benefits. That, and the rapid changes in the healthcare industry, are why employees need a “buddy” to help them with their benefits enrollment.

However, it’s unlikely you have the time to personally escort each employee through the benefits process.Employee benefits advocacy can help support enrollment in a variety of ways to ensure a smoother, safer ride for everyone.

There are three main groups of employees who might use an employee advocacy system. Let’s take a look at each and how they might benefit from personal support.

Everyone needs an expert to help them navigate turbulent waters.

Group 1: The Empowered Enrollee
Going back to our river analogy, some people just need to rent the boat and they’re ready to go.

In terms of group health benefits, you can assume these employees own computers and that they’re probably already comfortable using them to handle the business of life. For example, they may pay bills online.

This group is likely to call on employee advocacy when they need password assistance or for answers to general plan questions.

For them, you can position employee advocacy like this: “We know you’re smart, but consider this support an added bonus that allows you to call someone if you need help. We know you want to do everything on your own, but now you don’t have to worry about getting stuck.”

Group 2: The Not-So-Empowered Enrollee
Other people might not only need to rent the boat, they might also need a map and a guide to help them get down the river.

The not-so-empowered employee benefits enrollee will have some level of comfort using computers, but they might still need that “buddy” to answer certain questions.

This group will have a better experience if they have someone they can call to walk them through all of the steps necessary for enrollment and to answer questions that arise at different points in the process.

Group 3: The Enrollee Who Needs a Lifeline
And then there are the people who need someone to hold their hands from start to finish, while also patiently explaining each piece of equipment and how to navigate every bend in the river.

Here’s where employee advocacy can act like a lifeline.

Even though many employers want to go paperless, it’s important to remember that not everyone has Internet access, or if they have access, they might use it only sparingly. That is, just because someone has an email account doesn’t mean they bank online. Plus, some employee populations don’t have computer access at all, either at work or at home.

Employee advocacy allows those who don’t have computers to enroll over the phone. Not only can these employees sign up over the phone, they can get assistance selecting their benefits. Then, since these people often are more likely to be distrustful of the process, they will be sent a confirmation statement verifying that everything went through.

This kind of service is especially useful for older employee populations.

The Unexpected Side Benefit
Here’s a secret about employee benefits advocacy: Each time a participant calls in for assistance, there’s an opportunity to provide education. That is, they may think that they’re asking a simple question, such as “Which plan is the cheapest?” But the question creates an opportunity to discuss the employee’s healthcare needs and how each plan correlates to their specific situations, which helps them pick the right plans and the right levels of coverage. We call this interaction a coachable moment.

Or perhaps someone needs assistance navigating the online system. But while they’re on the phone with an employee advocacy consultant, they’re also getting an explanation of each plan and how to best utilize the benefits they choose.

Plus, the opportunities for education are ongoing. Participants can call for personal support whenever there’s a needed plan change (e.g., getting married/divorced, having a child). Each contact should end with the employee walking away with more information and a better understanding of the nuances of their plan.

One-on-one support is especially important when you consider that employees who sign up for the wrong plans may ultimately end up paying more and costing the company. If plans aren’t a good fit, employees don’t blame themselves for enrollment errors, they blame their employer for offering a “bad” plan.

Mutually Beneficial
Employees appreciate advocacy services for several reasons:

  • It eases the enrollment process.
  • They can walk away with a deeper understanding of their benefits and how much they’re going to have to pay.
  • They can utilize the service for all types of benefits, including medical, dental, life, disability, Employee Assistance Program Flexible Spending Accounts, etc.
  • There is someone to assist them with benefits that may require calculations.
  • They can feel more confident that they’re making the correct decisions for themselves and their families.

From the employer side, employee advocacy saves a lot of hassle. It relieves HR of the time-consuming process of walking employees through the online system, as well as the burden of having to help them if they lose their passwords and lock themselves out. Consider that if you have a group of 500 employees and 50 of them can’t get into system. It’s a big time investment to spend 5-10 minutes with each person who can’t login, especially during a very busy time of year. Plus, HR can have the assurance that employees are getting correct information.

Bonus: With all of the day-to-day benefits issues handled properly, employees will be more likely to use their coverage appropriately and that could mean a significant savings in overall program cost for the employer.

©2015 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.