The Open Enrollment 2019 Season is Coming (But Don’t be Afraid)

Harrison Newman

Fear Not the Employee Benefits Open Enrollment 2019 Season | Harrison Newman | Corporate Synergies

Open enrollment 2019 has so many moving parts it may seem impossible to manage. But breaking down its components can help HR host a successful event.

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Three words have the power to make the most experienced HR professional shudder—open enrollment 2019.

Open enrollment season is a challenge, no matter how well the HR department prepares. Costs for medical and pharmacy benefits continue to rise, which means there are adjusted employee contributions to present to an audience who’s unlikely to understand the reasoning behind cost increases. There may be new health & welfare benefits offerings that require employees to pay close attention during the decision-making process. There are open enrollment education campaigns and communications meetings to plan and launch.

Employers with multiple generations of workers must accommodate a wide range of health and welfare benefits needs. New laws (like the federal tax law) plus evolving regulations around benefits add more to HR’s already full plate. No wonder you don’t have time for lunch.

It’s worth repeating: plan throughout the year for open enrollment 2019 in these four steps:

1. Review Trends and Projections ASAP.

Focus on the renewal rate long before the renewal date. If your health & welfare benefits renew at the beginning of the year, you may not have received your rate yet. But frankly, by now you should have a very good idea where the rate is projected to land. Reviewing claims and trend data alongside benchmarking and industry analyses throughout the year can help you and your broker project, within a few percentage points, how your renewal rate will increase or decrease.  Your employee benefits broker should be analyzing your program data on an ongoing basis to estimate the renewal rate and avoid a nasty surprise. The broker should also challenge the first carrier rate offered—there’s almost always room for negotiation. Doing pre-renewal work throughout the year can help you prepare for plan changes and position you to make the best decisions for the organization and employees.

Reviewing data with your broker regularly will make for a smoother open enrollment 2019.

2. Keep New Benefit Options Simple.

After reviewing benefits and trends, you may find that adding a pre-tax benefit, such as a health savings account (HSA), flexible spending account (FSA) or a health reimbursement account (HRA), can help the organization save money while giving employees a way to better plan their healthcare and finances. However, with their alphabet soup acronyms, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs are confusing. Even if you did a health spending accounts campaign, it pays to repeat it.

The same goes for voluntary benefits: keep them simple. There is a dearth of voluntary benefits available for a multi-generational workforce. While adding voluntary benefits sounds appealing—especially if your core health & welfare benefits are changing—which products are right for your organization? Survey your employees to get their feedback; they’ll appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion. Once you tally the feedback, resist the urge to offer a slew of voluntary products. Keeping it simple means adding the one (or a few) that are most desired by your work

Voluntary benefits require significant education and engagement—especially products that are newer to the market. (Student loan debt assistance is a good example.)

When it comes to a successful voluntary benefits program, timing is everything. If you plan to add student loan debt repayment, pet insurance, long-term care, or any other new voluntary product, the open enrollment season is not the recommended time to do it. Running a voluntary education and communications campaign and open enrollment off-cycle will allow employees to focus on their main menu of options during open enrollment 2019, then decide later what they want to add for “dessert.”

3. Educate. Educate. Repeat. Repeat.

You offer health & welfare benefits to help recruit and retain the best talent. But if your employees don’t understand the core and voluntary benefits you offer, you’re unlikely to increase engagement or retention—and you might even see costs rise.

The health & welfare benefits landscape is changing drastically, which means the onus is on the employer and the HR department to educate the workforce on how the plan is changing (if at all). This means putting decision-support tools (such as calculators) in employees’ hands to help them estimate how much insurance they will need to make the best decision. You could run a whole campaign around that topic.

In addition, try using new methods of communication such as social media messages, text messaging, small-group meetings, your company’s intranet, and one-on-one sessions to help employees avoid mistakes at decision time.

4. Create a 21st Century Experience.

Manual benefits enrollment and tracking is so 1999. Moving away from paper-based enrollment will save trees (and possibly your sanity) during the open enrollment season and throughout the year.  Benefits administration technology allows employees to ponder their options and enroll at their leisure. A decision-support platform enables better enrollment tracking. It helps employees avoid mistakes and typos that can pose major issues for the plan participant and the HR team.

Benefits administration technology provides checks and balances that streamline important tactical functions. Mistakes can put you in a world of hurt when it comes to benefit laws and regulations, such as missing those all-important annual HIPAA and COBRA notifications. You can avoid potential government penalties, fines and employee lawsuits with automatic notifications by the benefits administration technology platform. Technology can also help you identify ineligible dependents, provide employee data to a COBRA provider if employment ends, interface with your payroll platform…the list is almost endless.

Bottom Line: Employee Health and Peace of Mind.

Employees won’t enroll in what they don’t understand—which could lead them to choose a health & welfare benefits plan that is more expensive, or with fewer options, than what they need. Being prepared for open enrollment 2019, keeping plans simple, focusing on employee education and communications (and the employee experience) can help mitigate issues for plan participants and HR.

Putting all of your ducks in a row throughout the year will ease headaches during the open enrollment 2019 season. You might even be able to take a lunch break.


© 2018 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.

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