For many employers, the annual open enrollment period is fast approaching. During open enrollment, employees have an opportunity to choose or change their benefits (such as health, life, vision, and dental insurance). Given the complexity of many benefit programs, employers and employees often have questions during open enrollment. To help make the process as smooth as possible, here are some tips to consider:
#1: Communicate Early
Whether you provide health insurance benefits through a private plan, a self-insured plan, or through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), notify employees early that open enrollment is coming. Summarize benefits choices and any changes from the previous year so that employees can start to think about their options. Send these communications several weeks prior to open enrollment.
#2: Communicate Often
Communicate open enrollment information through multiple mediums, such as a traditional benefits guide (see below), memos, email, and recorded information sessions or webinars that employees can easily share with family members.
#3: Encourage Active Selections
Instead of just rolling over the previous year's selections, some employers require employees to actively choose their benefits during open enrollment or they won't receive those benefits in the following year. Even if you don't follow this practice, encourage employees to take into account past usage and to select the option that best fits their current needs. Remind employees that their benefit elections (or lack thereof) will generally remain in place for an entire year. This means that if their choice is too expensive for their budget or doesn't meet their needs, they will generally have to wait until the next open enrollment period to make changes. Open enrollment is also a good time to remind employees to make sure their beneficiaries and contact information are up to date.
#4: Provide a Benefits Guide
Choosing benefits isn't always easy for employees. If your company has a benefits broker, consider asking them to create a benefits guide or list of frequently asked questions, to help distill the various options. Organize information so that employees can easily find what's relevant to them, such as a section on single coverage and a section on family coverage. The content should be simple and not overly technical. Additionally, it should include a point of contact and links to more in-depth information.
#5: Refer to SPD and SBC
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires health plans to provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) and make available upon request a uniform glossary of terms commonly used in health insurance during open enrollment. The SBC must be provided no later than the first day of open enrollment and included in any written enrollment materials. For self-insured and level-funded plans, the employer is responsible for preparing the SBC. Employers with fully-insured plans should coordinate with their insurance company to ensure that the SBC is provided. Instruct employees to review the SBC for questions about deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, and the costs and limitations associated with various types of medical events.
#6: Highlight the Value
Explain how the benefits you provide contribute to employees' total compensation (their base pay plus the value of company provided benefits). Additionally, let employees know how they can reduce their own benefit costs. For example, tell employees about any premium reductions or other incentives you offer for participating in a wellness program.
#7: Consider Additional Resources
Provide employees with multiple resources to help ease the anxiety of making benefit elections. If you don't have a dedicated person in the office who can answer questions, consider having your broker available to answer employees' questions. Also, refer employees to the insurer's website for more information.
Employee benefits are a great way to attract, retain, and motivate employees. Prepare for open enrollment season in advance to help guide employees, encourage active selection decisions, and increase employee morale.