Although open enrollment is one of the most labor-intensive and important annual events, managed properly, it means your organization can maximize its benefit elections and coverage.
Managed improperly, it can mean a host of problems that last throughout the coming year for employees and business owners.
Reducing the stress of open enrollment begins with planning and organization. The more structured the process, the easier it is to keep track of whose paperwork has been received, whose is outstanding and who isn’t making any changes for the coming year.
Sounds complicated, but it can be simplified with a few tools and a bit of advance work. Like so many tasks, it’s all in the prep. Here are 10 steps to a stress-free open enrollment.
Step 1: Gather necessary forms and notifications
Long before open enrollment dates begin, you’ll want to have paperwork ready, forms in place, and information available.
Contact your insurance and benefits carriers for forms and information — have them send you a supply of enrollment forms for employees to make elections. If there are any changes to plans for the coming year, ask for information that explains plan changes. Include them in the employees’ enrollment packets. If changes are significant, you may consider asking your representative to meet with staff to explain and answer questions.
Step 2: Communicate early and often
Up to a month before enrollment opens — generally November 1 through December 15 — start notifications that open enrollment is coming. Use internal signage, email, texts, and any other communication methods (such as Slack) employees are likely to see and read.
Let employees know paperwork will be coming their way, websites are open and available for information and FAQs, and HR and management can answer questions as well. The more you prep employees for the coming enrollment, the more opportunity you have to answer questions before the 11th hour and it’s stressful pressure.
Send reminders weekly — right through the deadline — to keep enrollment top of mind for employees.
Step 3: Consider a benefits fair
If you have a lot of new options, employees are enrolling for the first time, have a lot of questions or you’re just looking for a reason to party, consider a benefits fair.
Ask your carriers to send out a representative that can answer questions and help employees make the right choices.
You could create an in-house event or a virtual fair. If you can’t get everyone together under one roof, a slide deck with the basics on enrollment and links to FAQ pages of each of your insurance carriers can help employees get the information they need to make the right choices.
Bonus: It could also minimize the amount of time you spend later answering the same questions over and over.
Step 4: Create an open enrollment spreadsheet
Whatever the size of your company, making sure everyone has made their elections for the coming year is job one.
Organizing this process is as easy as creating a spreadsheet to help you track every employee and their choices. It can be a printed document kept at reception to check in everyone’s forms or a shared digital version. But it should include all the information you need to tick everyone and their forms off your list.
Include a row with the name of every eligible employee and columns of each coverage plan option. For example, one column each for health, dental, vision, life insurance, and disability. As paperwork is received, check the employee has submitted paperwork in each of the categories.
As open enrollment goes on, you’ll see which employees you need to contact individually in addition to your all-employee communications.
Step 5: Prepare information packages and send out 30 days before enrollment begins
The information packet you provide to each employee should have everything the employee needs to make the process as painless as possible for them, as well. You’ll want to include a cover letter that notifies:
- When open enrollment will begin and end
- Who to contact with questions about forms or coverage
- Where to return forms (include self-addressed, stamped envelopes for employees on leave, vacation or working remotely)
- There’s a checklist and affirmation form included in their packet
Employees should receive their enrollment packages no later than 30 days before enrollment begins — for most businesses October 1 to be ready for the November 1 opening.
You’ll want to remember to include bilingual forms and information if your employees’ first language isn’t English. Don’t forget remote workers, those on leave, or vacation. Send their packages (and make sure to get confirmation they received them) to arrive no later than October 1.
Step 6: Create an employee enrollment checklist
Who says you’re the only one who likes things organized? A checklist, included in the employee enrollment packet, can make it easier for staff to remember what they need to submit.
The checklist reminds them to include completed paperwork for any of the new elections or changes they’re making for the coming plan year.
It should remind them to include birth certificates, marriage or divorce decrees or court orders if applicable.
Step 7: Include an affirmation form
Another best practice to include is a form the employee can sign and submit affirming they are not making changes to their plans for the coming year.
If employees don’t submit changes, their current coverage simply continues. To better organize open enrollment, many companies ask employees to affirm that they’re not making any changes to their coverage for the coming year.
The more you prep employees for the coming enrollment, the more opportunity you have to answer questions before the 11th hour and it’s stressful pressure.
Knowing who’s not making any changes — and ticking them off the list — and whose paperwork is outstanding can make open enrollment more organized.
You know who you have to chase down and who to leave alone. Another plus, occasionally employees claim they meant to make changes but didn’t know about enrollment. The affirmation form validates they were aware of the timeline but elected to make no changes.
Make sure your affirmation checklist includes the following for employees to sign and return:
- I [First name, Last name] do not want to make any changes to my existing insurance plans for the coming plan year 2020.
Step 8: Check submitted forms off your list
As employees return their forms, mark which have been submitted off your checklist. If employees drop them off in person, ask them to wait a moment for a quick review — make sure each form is completed and signed — which is one of the most common mistakes.
Important tip: Don’t send employee forms back to them if they’re incomplete or unsigned — have employees stop by HR to make corrections. Forms get lost, employees forget — the less time this paperwork is out of your hands, the better!
Step 9: Plan Q&A availability
As soon as the enrollment period begins, be ready for questions. Notify employees you’ve set aside time to answer questions about coverage and help with paperwork.
They can be informal “morning stop-ins” or “Wednesday Q&As.” If the lines get too long, offer an online calendar employees can schedule themselves a meeting with the benefits administrator. The more questions and concerns you address early in the process, the less stressful December 14 will be for you.
Step 10: Let Tech Take Charge
To make enrollment even easier, consider automating the process. Your individual carriers may have online enrollment portals: they’ll notify you which employee’s forms are in and which are outstanding.
If you use individual portals, you’ll need to coordinate if you have more than one carrier — like health, dental, and vision — to make sure employees have visited every stop along the path.