We did it! We wrapped up another open enrollment season. Like every year, this year came with its own challenges that we had to get through, but those challenges can set us up for an even better OE season next year. We have a great opportunity right now to use this experience to figure out where there were shortcomings and use what we learned to make next year’s enrollment even better.
Listen to employees: While open enrollment is still fresh on their minds, you might want to ask employees for feedback:
- Did they have the information they needed?
- Did they feel well informed?
- What questions do they still have?
- How much did they use the website or other reference sources you provided?
Persistent questions and gaps in understanding will help you define focus areas for ongoing communication throughout the year. We offer surveys to our clients to help us answer these questions on their behalf.
Evaluate your broker: Now’s the time to look at your broker relationship, too.
- Did your brokers support you well during open enrollment, flexing with changes as they arose?
- Did your brokers meet their commitments throughout the year?
- How well did you achieve any milestones set out for updates, insights and planning?
- Did they visit with you about claims experience or prepare you for big adjustments?
- Did they resolve issues quickly and suggest proactive solutions?
If not, this might be a good time to address those problems.
Reinforce key messages: The first quarter is a good time to remind employees about the tools available to them to help them understand their benefits, especially if you rolled out new ones. Consider how to best communicate:
- Cost comparison tools
- Finding in-network providers
- Contacting their carriers
- Requesting new ID cards
- Using the HSA
Start planning for next year: Don’t wait until your rates are in for 2020. That’s too late to start planning. I always suggest getting a shell of a plan in place, even if you might have to modify it later based on your rates.
- Consider what you can do with benefits to help recruit and retain valuable workers in this tight labor market. Some of the hot benefits right now are student loan repayment plans, financial wellness programs, increased HSA contributions, elimination of spousal surcharges and paycheck advance programs.
- Look at your demographics to see how many workers are approaching retirement age. What can you do to retain them? Do you need to start educating workers who are nearing Medicare eligibility about how their workplace benefits will coordinate?
- Talk with your brokers about the trends that might affect your benefits next year. Will the Aetna/CVS merger affect you? Will you see more narrow network opportunities?
- If you are planning changes, think about the level of disruption employees are going to experience. If you can anticipate which employees will be displaced by such a move, can you communicate with them in a targeted way?
- How can you help employees better understand the reasons for changes that might be coming? Can you explain how these changes affect both the bottom line and employee premiums?
- If possible, measure what communication tools worked well last year. You might be able to leverage those tools and change the ones that didn’t work. For example, some of our clients didn’t see the level of website use they’d like, so they’re planning to increase promotion of the sites next year.
- Consider how you can use what you learned to improve communication throughout the year. Can you do a better job of educating new hires, for example, by leveraging the materials you created for open enrollment? Can you drive employees back to the web through the year for education on how to use their benefits wisely and how to track their HSA, HRA, FSA and deductible status?
Wrap up ancillary coverage earlier in the year: I think it’s a good idea to market your ancillary coverage early in the year and put those decisions to bed before you start thinking about health rates. If you wait until you’re in the midst of decision-making about medical, dental and vision, you’re likely to feel pushed into a corner, and that’s where mistakes get made.
It’s OK to rest from open enrollment and give yourself a little pat on the back. But then, get to work! These are just a few of the many things you can do now to help make next fall a little easier and more effective.