Who would think it’s already time to fix the aspects that didn’t go so well, but it is.
Whether your evaluation indicated technology issues or human errors, it is often not so easy to take the confusion out of insurance benefits. In addition to all the post-enrollment work (like ensuring carriers and vendors have the correct elections or dealing with those new hires who just came on after the timeline), there are many steps to take now to be sure your business is set to avoid potential headaches for the next open enrollment.
Who would have thought that employees would be enrolling from a mobile device or as technology experts tell us, Alexa, who will become your employees and their families’ best friend during open enrollment? Electronic enrollment is becoming more widespread each year. We have seen some confusion for our clients and employees simply because of the technical commands in systems. It is great that a benefits administration system can provide a record of when employees log in to the system to make their elections, but have you ever had an employee make the elections and never click the submit bar? It may have been intentional like discovering that a spouse’s plan was a better option or then again, it could just be from human error…missing the bar. Conducting a review of how often this is happening should trigger more communications or a technical check point which a vendor should be able to apply.
All online systems are not equal in format and extent of communications. One example of a technical issue which can be improved the way documents are accessed online. As we know, merely electing death benefit coverage doesn’t ensure those intended beneficiaries will receive the funds unless the individual names those beneficiaries. If the benefits are elected on one page, and beneficiaries identified on another, employees can unintentionally fail to name beneficiaries. If you audit such employee forms before open enrollment, you will know if this is an issue to either discuss with your vendor or remind employees prior to open enrollment.
This brings me to the essential communications planning which businesses should begin now to ensure less human error and the confusion which can needlessly frustrate employees. A simple online enrollment platform does not always meet the needs of all employees, and businesses don’t always combine the online with additional channels for communication. Information can easily be omitted, or employees may overlook important details if there is not enough attention to the presentation of information. You can reduce administrative time required to explain benefit options to employees, due to detailed plan summaries, resources, and customer service available within an online enrollment system. However, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented, everything as you know, becomes more complicated. For example, has your company opted to offer minimum value plans (MVPs) or plans that cover fewer procedures such as office visits, preventive care, and hospital room and board? If the online information compares the MVP plans as well as the traditional health plans but does not clearly identify in bold lists all the items the MVP plan does not cover, the employees may easily think they are getting a comprehensive plan. Remember, with so much information to cull through on any agreements, most of us only read about 10% of the details! Most human resource professionals know what it is like to have an employee end up with an ambulance bill which is not covered or even worse, an employee who has to put off a life-threatening surgery because the plan selected does not cover the operation.
So, what else can you do to better prepared for open enrollment? Here are just a few recommendations which we share with our clients:
Multiple Forms of Communications Make it easy for employees and their family members to access your plan information and processes for the online open enrollment. Start planning your messages and materials now with a strategic schedule of distribution in multiple channels—eblasts, intranet, emails, talking points for meetings, and even links to providers. Share issues since the last enrollment and what your company has done to find solutions.
Conduct an Audit on your Communications Format How clearly did you share comparisons, details, changes, and the whys? Remember that employees often review messages on their phones or tablets, so you need to format differently. Consider tools which focus specifically on employee benefits such as using an Intranet or even a private Facebook group. Don’t forget to review all the sections in your online system and review improvements. Be sure to submit changes to your vendor early enough to implement within their requirements.
Consider How your HR team will Divide and Conquer! With so many compliance and vendor updates throughout the year, be sure you have more than one person handling the details for employee benefits. You might divide certain aspects between team members and add an agenda item to meetings for Employee Benefit Updates. Think of all the less global issues such as handling child support enrollments. At one time or another, all employers receive qualified medical child support orders (QMCSOs) or other similar orders that require the employer to enroll an employee’s dependent child(ren) in coverage. These carry over from year to year unless otherwise specified in the order. An employee may not re-enroll the dependent in coverage during open enrollment. You can save yourselves a lot of work during the year by ensuring that dependents who are enrolled in one plan year are re-enrolled for the next year as well.
Costly mistakes can be made when benefits are not communicated effectively, or when important information is simply omitted. The hassles for your human resources personnel can cause havoc when pitfalls are not reviewed and dealt with months before the next open enrollment. Make the experience as positive as you can for your employees to talk about during the next open enrollment.
Krys Reid, Principal of Tower Benefit Consultants and Charter Member of United Benefit Advisors (UBA) headquartered in Virginia Beach, provides Consulting and Broker Services throughout Virginia. He can be reached at 757-424-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org