Open Enrollment Tips Health Care Benefits in 2017


NEW YORK—Once a year, company owners, managers and HR pros see the annual Open Enrollment season as an opportunity to personally engage with employees by helping them to make choices that will safeguard their health and financial well-being. Before starting this year’s process, here are a few tips you should review before putting your plans into action:

• Look back on how your company fared during last year's open enrollment period and take steps to eliminate inefficiencies and information lapses.

• Review and understand what were the most time-consuming aspects of your past Open Enrollment, and how you can streamline the plans and meetings this year.

• Remember what questions employees asked most frequently, and plan ahead with prepared Questions and Answers, in writing and in person.

• Make Open Enrollment an active and engaging process and not a one-way only communication. To engage employees around their benefits with an active enrollment strategy, make sure employees have complete and easy access to understand information to select the health care plan and other benefits they want, rather than one that allows them to passively continue with their selections from the prior year.

• Consider the communication preferences of different groups of employees and not simply a “one size fits all” process. Employees just starting their careers are the most underinsured group and may see student debt rather than health coverage as a more pressing priority.

• Make sure to have multiple contact points, and include one-on-one engagement, whether that is a person sitting across the lunchroom table or just being able to talk with small groups of employees. The more personalized and customized the discussion is, the more impact it will have.

Lastly, one of the common mistakes that employees make every year is failing to adequately understand the cost of a health plan, and specifically the tradeoff between high premiums and low deductibles. And when health savings accounts (HSAs) are coupled with high-deductible plans, the cost calculation becomes more complicated. An added complication is that HSA basics remain widely misunderstood by employees.

It helps to provide cost and benefit calculators, and these are becoming integrated into benefit platforms, sometimes allowing employees to pull in their claims history from last year to help them select the right option.

A survey earlier this year by the nonprofit International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans revealed that employers believe:

• Benefit plan participants do not open or read communications materials (80 percent of organizations reported this).

• Participants don't understand the materials (49 percent).

• Participants don't perceive value in their benefits (31 percent).

Having a strategy in place is tremendously helpful to small and large companies alike. The sooner you can start communicating rather than waiting for enrollment, the better the process will go for you and for your employees.

Hedley Lawson, Contributing Editor
Managing Partner
Aligned Growth Partners, LLC
(707) 217-0979