News 6/8/2017

BenefitsPro: 3 Steps to Becoming an Open Enrollment Champion

If you ask any experienced advisor, broker or HR professional, they will tell you open enrollment is more than just an event that happens once a year.

“Open enrollment is the Super Bowl,” says Matt Berman, senior vice president and employee benefits advisor at USI Insurance Services, a leading national brokerage and consulting firm.

“It’s the culmination of months and months of strategic and collaborative planning by employers and their advisors.”

In fact, open enrollment “season” isn’t really a “season” at all. Planning should begin almost right after the enrollment window ends. Berman says open enrollment teams — advisors and their teams and employers — should immediately evaluate the past season, taking stock of what went well, what didn’t and where they can improve next year. From there, the team will be in a good position to devise a game plan for the year ahead.

Kick off smart

Once the team has had time to assess and evaluate the data from the previous enrollment period — how many people enrolled in each plan option, what percentage of the population switched plans and which plans saw a change in enrollment — and whether the desired metrics were reached, it should start thinking about its benefits goals and strategies for the upcoming enrollment season.

Admittedly, some enrollment plans could likely be a moving target at this stage, as company financials coupled with the changing regulatory environment are uncertain; however, the sooner the framework is in place, the easier it will be to adapt to necessary changes as the months go by.

“It’s important for advisors and brokers to bring employers new, but proven, ideas for improving their results,” says Berman. “Smart employers know that they can’t rely on the same methods they used five, 10 years ago.

They want to evolve to keep pace with the market. At the same time, however, they don’t necessarily want to be the test case for a new approach. They’re interested in seeing how different strategies have netted out, and how they can emulate the successful strategies to experience comparable outcomes.”

Coach employees on their options

One strategy that has proven to be highly effective is active employee engagement — requiring employees to make an affirmative election in order to have coverage, and providing robust support to employees as they make their decisions.

Right now, health care is under a microscope as the new administration attempts to repeal, replace or repair the ACA and regulations remain in flux. In reality, though, the health care system has already changed dramatically over the past decade.

Health care reform has disrupted the way everyone thinks about health insurance — putting greater onus on employees to understand and navigate their increasingly complex options. Yet, according to the American Journal of Public Health, nearly half of all Americans have difficulty understanding health information and more than $230 billion is wasted each year due to low health care literacy.

Unfortunately, employees still don’t always have the tools they need to make informed decisions when it comes to their health care despite the emergence and adoption of technology to support and process enrollment decisions.

Online support tools can only provide so much information — and are only useful if employees actually access them. The usefulness of these tools is also limited by the fact that they must, by their very nature, provide only general guidance — no tool can address every individual situation.

Employers need to figure out a way to educate employees on their options in order to steer them toward the right track while meeting individual needs. By teaming up with advisors and brokers, they can implement best-in-class engagement systems, such as personalized, 1:1 meetings during which employees have a chance to share their health care situations, ask questions and work toward answers.

Follow through

Advisors, brokers and employers can also work together to regularly engage employees. Beyond initial meetings, they may want to consider hosting webinars throughout the year or sending emails and texts with useful pieces of information as employees prepare to enroll.

For remote workers or employees who are frequently on the road, they may even consider out-of-the-box approaches such as informational CDs or podcasts that employees can listen to while in the car.

With so many changes to the health care regulatory environment on the table, it’s more important than ever to regularly communicate with employees — proactively sharing the steps the employer is taking to get ahead of potential changes.

As conversations about the future of the ACA continue on the national stage employees are becoming more concerned about their health care choices and are looking to their employers to translate what these changes mean for them, in addition to reassuring them that they are covered.

The employer can lean on the broker to give them the information they need to share with employees.

Recap

Through critical analysis of past performances, strategic goal-setting, thoughtful planning and ongoing, personalized coaching, brokers, advisors and employers can work together to pull off a winning open enrollment “season.” Just before they start all over again.

Read the article here.

(Bart Yancey is CEO and Founder at DirectPath)

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