Liz Sheffield

How to Prepare for Your Business’s First Open Enrollment Period

Offering your workforce health insurance for the first time is an exciting milestone. It’s a sign that your business is taking its next steps to something even bigger and better.

Your employees will also appreciate the perk. Employees rate health insurance as the most valuable workplace benefit, a critical factor in their decision to either stay at a job or seek a new employer.

As you begin offering health benefits, you want the process to be as smooth as possible, for you and your employees alike — especially when open enrollment (OE) enters the mix. Here’s how to make sure your employees have the information they need to make smart choices about their health insurance.

Why Is an Open Enrollment Plan Essential?

Even though your employees want health insurance benefits, they may not understand their plan itself. A health insurance literacy survey of 2,000 Americans with health insurance found that most of them overestimated their health insurance know-how. Despite what they believed, only 4% of those surveyed could accurately define four key health insurance terms.

If there’s any time when it’s crucial for employees to understand their benefits, it’s open enrollment. Barring special exceptions, most plans allow for insurance selections and changes to be made only during this period, which comes once a year. If an employee makes the wrong choice, they could end up with the wrong coverage or losing it altogether.

Most employers’ enrollment periods last only somewhere between two and four weeks, which is why preparing your employees to navigate their benefits becomes increasingly important as you approach OE.

5 Tips for a Successful First-Time Open Enrollment

As you plan for your first health insurance enrollment opportunity, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Emphasize Employee Education

Employee education during OE is critical. It’s hard to know what you don’t know, so if your employees aren’t informed about their choices and options, they won’t know which questions to ask to find a plan that fits their needs. The wrong plan choice could result in avoidable costs like shelling out for unaffordable deductibles or using higher-cost pharmaceuticals instead of biosimilar drugs.

2. Rely on Your Benefits Partner

Though you’ve probably gained a fair understanding of insurance when health plan shopping, your carrier has deep knowledge of the ins and outs of health insurance. Have them explain the difference between various plans’ out-of-pocket costs and coverage. They’re the experts, so you don’t have to be. Consider asking a representative from your insurer (or your broker) to host a benefits fair, “lunch and learn” session or webinar so employees can get answers to their most pressing questions about their insurance options.

3. Allow Plenty of Time to Plan

For the annual OE cycle, the Society for Human Resource Management recommends starting to plan two or three months ahead of open enrollment. If you’re offering small business health insurance for the first time, allocate at least four months before enrollment begins. The extra time allows you to work out any kinks that may come up and makes sure your employees aren’t rushed as they prepare for enrollment.

4. Ensure Clear and Concise Communication

Regardless of the topic, people don’t like being overwhelmed with information. That’s doubly true when it comes to benefits. Ease your employees into OE by making it easy for them to access important information. Use familiar terms and concise communications, such as short emails, to convey relevant benefits updates. Include contact information for questions, highlight important dates and explain key terms.

Keep in mind, though, that not all employees learn the same way. A printed office benefits newsletter might be perfect for one person but a waste of paper for another. Get the word out using multiple mediums — even via text, depending on your workforce — so that no employees are left confused.

5. Evaluate What Works and What Doesn’t

When enrollment closes, reserve some time to document what went well and what needs to be tweaked. It’s easy to think that you’ll still have a sense of where you went wrong by the time next year’s OE rolls around, but over time the pain points (as well as the successes) tend to get blurry. Make it easier to reproduce the wins and reduce the losses by saving templates to reuse and creating a checklist of what you need for a successful OE. Ask employees for their suggestions and feedback.

Open enrollment may seem far away right now, but the calendar will fool you: It’ll be upon you sooner than you think. Start preparing now to make OE simple for your workforce with a blueprint you’ll be able to use for years to come.

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