5 Ways to Ease the Pain of Open Enrollment
Did you know that Open Enrollment season ranks lower than Tax season in terms of consumer preference? The good news is, it’s more preferred then Cold & Flu or Allergy season, but the one thing all of these “seasons” have in common is some degree of pain. In my role as an advisor to brokers/consultants, employer groups, insurance carriers, service providers, and others, I help to mitigate the pain caused by Open Enrollment (OE) for both employers and their employees. Here, I’ll share some of my observations on how OE got to be such a painful topic, and what you can do to make everyone feel better this time of year.
Why is Open Enrollment so painful?
According to a GuideSpark survey, more than 50 percent of millennial employees don’t understand their benefits options and 56 percent wish their employers would communicate better about benefits. More than half of those employees surveyed want to leverage their benefits, but also want to spend as little time as possible learning about them.
And that can make an employer’s role tough. You want to give your employees quality benefit options to show you value them, but you also want to ensure a smooth process that engages them in best-fit selections.
Let’s look at five ways to mitigate this Open Enrollment conundrum for employers (in reverse order on the pain meter) to create a more satisfying experience for employees:
5. Have the right software in place.
There’s nothing more frustrating than taking the time to get something done, only to find the technology you are working with isn’t functioning properly. This can have an adverse effect on already harried employees trying to enroll in their benefits plans within a limited time period, especially for those who wait until the last minute. This can not only frustrate employees but paint the employer in a negative light, resulting in a lack of confidence or trust.
Remedy: When using technology to streamline benefits enrollment, use a provider that has the right tools for your company, and that continually monitors those tools for stresses on the system. Also check to ensure the provider has capacity planning as part of its ongoing operational excellence, and has accessible employee service mechanisms, such as call centers or email support, in the event of a problem. Think how you treat your customers to optimize their experience. Your employees deserve no less.
4. Load information correctly.
Having a great system means nothing if the information you’re providing it is faulty. This can happen when plan rates are loaded incorrectly, or any essential employee data is incorrect or missing. Your billing and payroll systems can be adversely affected. Reconciliation on the carrier side can prove lengthy and costly, and statements may need to be reissued. In short, it can be a real mess.
Remedy: Build enough time into the process and have adequately trained staff monitor the transmission of data to ensure the system functions smoothly. Make sure your benefits technology provider conducts audits at several steps in the process to catch any red flags on their end – before your data is affected.
3. Take every precaution when it comes to payroll.
Another pain point for everyone involved (employers, employees and technology providers) can be when payroll deductions don’t start on time. This can happen when everyone is working so hard to prepare for the new benefits year that they miss a step when it comes time to implement. It can be a drain on resources to backtrack and take double or triple payroll deductions.
Remedy: You may not ultimately have control over a payroll provider, but you do have control over how often you present your information and milestone dates, and check in with them along the way to prevent any miscommunication or missed deadlines.
2. Stay on top of carriers.
Once benefits are selected, carriers control 85 percent of the process of enabling employees to use their benefit plans. If their systems are not compatible with your technology provider’s for receiving files, this could result in a denial of coverage, inaccurate billing, ID cards arriving late – all of which could require manual backup processes, not to mention a ton of headaches all around.
Remedy: Just as you can’t control your payroll provider, you can’t control your carriers – some of which can take up to 30 days to respond to employees who have chosen to enroll with them. The best you can do is choose a benefits system that conducts a thorough onboarding process in which carrier processes are carefully vetted. Your benefits provider should establish day-to-day contact with carriers to anticipate any problems or delays, and make sure timelines and roles are clearly understood.
1. Avoid data security breaches.
Probably about the worst thing that could happen to derail a successful Open Enrollment (not to mention your company’s integrity) is a data breach. From data files being sent in an unsecured email, to employees viewing others’ private information, to hacking, no breach is too small to be inconsequential when it comes to employees’ private information.
Remedy: Always comply with strict privacy laws, and choose a technology provider that conducts Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) audits and has strict security measures all around. This applies not just to Open Enrollment, but all times, especially if your business enables consumers to interact with your company using technology. Make sure all employees who come in contact with personal information collected through OE are trained on security procedures and that your data is protected.
All of the above precautions are good preventive measures, but to further help minimize any Open Enrollment pathologies from occurring, always be sure to:
Define roles and responsibilities.
– Involve all stakeholders (broker, service provider, internal management team, IT, Finance, Payroll, HRIS, etc.) and make sure everyone is aligned on the time and effort needed.
– Hold regular meetings before, during and after OE to catch any potential problems early.
– Document procedures and practices; never assume someone else is doing it.
Facilitate change management.
– Know that every year will bring change (payroll deduction files change, products change, employees change).
– This means all levels of the organization must be engaged and understand processes and procedures.
– Make sure your responses are proportional to the amount of pain involved (don’t overact to small glitches – staying calm is key).
– Rally your troops to get back on track when issues arise.
– Don’t put off escalation – better to be safe than sorry.
– Plan early.
Pain will happen. It can never be a perfect process with so many stakeholders involved. The best you can do is be prepared, have systems in place for when things go wrong, and learn how to continually improve these systems. Because just like the Cold & Flu season, you can count on the Open Enrollment season to come around every year.
Rhonda Marcucci is a CPA, Partner & Consultant at Gruppo Marcucci, the industry’s go-to source for anyone wishing to understand, enter, or penetrate the benefits administration market. Concentrating on the 25 – 25,000 lives organization, Gruppo Marcucci (GPM) is recognized today for its well-researched and unbiased sourcing advice and service provider capability audits, including in the fast-growing exchange marketplace.
For more on how Liazon helps employers to minimize the pain of Open Enrollment and benefits management year round, see our blog post, 10 Ways We Show Our Employers Love, by Beth Raskin.
 VSP Blog, “Open Talk About Open Enrollment,” August 31, 2015
 GuideSpark, “Employee Benefits Communications Survey,” E-Report, 2015