Open enrollment is stressful enough without a pandemic.
But add variables like remote work and social distancing and this year’s enrollment could be particularly challenging for organizations. It may also be especially important because employers are getting creative with benefit offerings as they compete for talent amidst COVID-19.
Proper planning and efficient execution will be key in overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic to achieve the results desired by employers. Following the steps below will lead to a smooth enrollment.
1) Plan Early
“The best recommendation I have is to plan early and have a reasonable and responsible timeline,” says Shelley Pinegar, team lead for the bswift practice at Providence Technology Solutions.
You should start preparing at least one to two months in advance of opening enrollment, depending on the size of the group enrolling and the extent of any changes in benefit offerings, payroll processes, or other enrollment factors.
Count back from the first day for enrollment, allowing additional time to adjust to changes like a new benefits provider or a revised payroll schedule in which you will pay employees 26 times a year in 2022 instead of 24 times as you may do now.
2) Pick A Path
Unlike previous years, some employers may choose a virtual enrollment to accommodate employees working from home while others opt for office-centered processes that allow workers to connect in person. So, open enrollment best practices for 2022 include planning for virtual and/or in-person processes, taking the proper steps and precautions for each.
If you go virtual, ensure that employees can easily access help remotely and that all of the proper technology is in place, like reliable video-conferencing tools to facilitate communication. Similarly, confirm that the proper safety protocols are in place and that they are followed if you hold in-person benefits meetings.
3) Be Active
You also must decide whether enrollment is “active” or “passive.” That is, will employees have to enroll or will they automatically be enrolled in the same benefits as they have now if they do not act during open enrollment?
Karene Crane, benefit technology team lead for the Employee Navigator practice at Providence Technology Solutions, prefers active enrollments. “It’s always good to present benefits to your employees at least once a year,” she says. In doing so, you can confirm that their benefits data like their addresses and dependents are current.
Also, in terms of attracting and retaining talent, you can reinforce the value of your benefits package and improve the employee experience by getting workers to use self-service HR technology. “The more often you can get employees engaged in the system, the better,” Crane says.
4) Prepare Your Portal
Crane also suggests cleaning up your enrollment portal before opening it to employees. This includes maintenance like deleting pending enrollments from the current year that will not be completed.
Test your system as well. This involves reviewing the plans, rates, and documents, as well as how the enrollment process flows. Include links to external sites and any required carrier forms as part of the online enrollment experience. If the process is not easy or information is not clear, employees will reach out with additional questions postponing enrollment confirmation.
5) Give Employees Time
Keep the enrollment window brief, Pinegar says. “Typically, 90% of your employees are going to wait until the last two days anyway. If you have 30 days, most of the time someone isn’t going to do anything until the very end.”
She recommends 7 to 10 days at most for online enrollment. And, “it’s always good to have a weekend so people can do it off work time,” she adds.
6) Communicate Clearly And Often
Explain the enrollment process to employees before it begins and follow up with them throughout. Configure benefits administration systems like bSwift or Employee Navigator to automatically send emails to employees that have not finished enrolling, for example.
“Anytime you can take work off HR and have things automated is helpful,” Crane says. Monitoring the enrollment process through reports like those available through benadmin systems also helps because HR can identify employees that have not finished and assist them in doing so.
7) Confirm Enrollments
Inaccurate or incomplete employee data is one of the biggest open enrollment challenges because it could compromise eligibility for coverage. Check submitted forms for problems that could slow enrollment, like incomplete information for dependents or missing signatures on forms.
Insist that employees review their confirmation statements and then compare the verified information to the previous year’s elections. Prepare to adjust future payroll deductions accordingly.
8) Leverage Technology
Streamlining workflows and simplifying processes with HR technology saves time for your team while improving open enrollment for your employees. For example, 84% of employers have called self-service online enrollment “extremely” or “very” effective, ValuePenguin reported in an article on the health benefits enrollment season, which also noted that two-thirds of employers have offered such technology.
9) Follow Up
Open enrollment does not end when it closes. You must review elections to ensure all employees completed enrollment, contingencies were met, limits were not exceeded, and corresponding forms were completed and returned.
You also should solicit feedback from employees and carriers, asking how enrollment went after it has finally finished. This will help you make improvements for next year’s open enrollment.
Open enrollment may come every year but every enrollment differs from the next — especially during periods of great change.
The COVID-19 pandemic may pose some open enrollment challenges. But you can still have a smooth enrollment that improves the employee experience if you follow the right steps.
Providence Technology Solutions has the expertise, knowledge, and resources to support you and your employees with a positive open enrollment experience.