Lisa Eramo

Preparing for Open Enrollment Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

As with any long-distance race, preparing for open enrollment is all about endurance — taking your time, pacing yourself and keeping your eyes on the finish line. Most employers have open enrollment in the fall, so it’s important to stay ahead of the curve to prepare your staff to make the benefits elections that will keep them not only healthy but also satisfied with your offerings.

Why It’s Important to Start Early

Chances are that most of the year, the ins and outs of health insurance are far from your employees’ center of attention, crowded out by the day-to-day stresses of work and life. They’ll benefit from a refresher on insurance basics and the plan options they have access to — especially if these have changed from the year before. In general, a slow immersion will be more effective than a flash flood of complex information.

The consequences of inadequately preparing employees for open enrollment can be major. CBS News reports that bad insurance choices and failure to react to changes in things like networks and out-of-pocket costs — not to mention health levels — costs employees roughly $750 a year.

Needless to say, the more value your employees get for their insurance, the happier they’ll be. And the financial stress saved by taking the time to educate your employees on their options translates to better focus and more productivity on the job. Finally, if open enrollment passes and your employees feel locked in an expensive plan that doesn’t quite fit their needs, they risk projecting that dissatisfaction with their benefits onto you or their boss.

So start early, leaving your employees the time they need to do open enrollment right.

An Open Enrollment Timeline

Open enrollment for most employers starts soon, but your work goes beyond that window. While truly keeping employees engaged in their health insurance is a year-round job, the following timeline is a useful point of reference for open enrollment.

  • 2 months before open enrollment: Start with scheduling the benefits meetings you’ll hold. If possible, plan to have multiple meetings to accommodate your employees’ different and potentially unpredictable calendars. Now is the time to develop a high-level benefits guide or even an open enrollment cheat sheet. Draft your communications ahead of time and create a schedule for deploying them.
  • 1 month before open enrollment: Display posters in prominent areas and send emails about 2019 open enrollment dates. One useful poster could be a chart of exactly what’s changing from last year and why these changes could matter to employees. Other options include a list of important dates or a glossary of core insurance terms. To really engage your staff, consider offering an interactive diagnostic tool that allows them to gauge the effects of different plan choices on their budget.
  • Just before open enrollment: Hold the benefits meetings you scheduled. If possible, have a representative from your insurance company present at these meetings. Letting an expert field questions whose answers you may not know will keep things efficient and minimize the risk of sharing false information. When the time comes, send an email announcing, “2019 open enrollment begins tomorrow.”
  • During open enrollment: Send daily email reminders about enrolling. Monitor enrollment rates and consider rewarding early birds to spur everyone into action. If necessary, as the enrollment period nears an end, contact employees who have yet to act and ask them how you can help.
  • Postenrollment: Educate employees about how to access their benefits, how to make changes due to life events and, if applicable, how to download their health plan app. While these things are especially important for getting employees up to speed with new plan features and options, keeping your staff engaged and informed all year is your best bet — and it will make next year’s open enrollment that much easier.
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Open Enrollment Quick Tips

Throughout the entire open enrollment process, keeping the following three tips in mind will help ensure success.

  1. Focus on employee education. The number of available health plan options can be overwhelming for employees. Be willing to answer questions and research details.
  2. Simplify communications. Insurance is complex and can intimidate people into disengaging. So keep communications short and sweet, providing links to more information should employees want it.
  3. Be persistent. Don’t be afraid to annoy your employees with multiple meeting invitations and repeated emails. Most likely, they’re relying on you like a snooze alarm to wake them up just in time.

Take the time to prepare for open enrollment in a way that leaves room for busy schedules and human nature. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

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