Open enrollment 2021 will look different this year because of COVID-19. Get a head start on the process to make this busy time of year as smooth as possible.
As summer begins to wane, it’s time to think about open enrollment — which will be here sooner than you think. Open enrollment is the time employees can sign up for company benefits or make changes to their current health plan.
Exchange-based open enrollment begins November 1, 2020, and continues through December 15, 2020. For HR managers, taking the time to prepare for open enrollment allows small business owners the option to compare benefit packages and shop for better pricing and services.
Here’s a checklist of items to go over as you prepare for Open Enrollment 2021.
1. Conduct a survey to get employee input
Before the mad rush of enrollment, ask employees to rate or discuss 2020’s benefits options. Do you pay for coverage no one uses? Sometimes optional coverage seems like a great idea — often they cost more — but are never utilized by employees. It might be a better idea to focus resources employees really want.
Pro tip: Conduct an employee engagement survey to gauge workers’ satisfaction. Keep the survey short to get the highest participation rate possible.
Send out a survey or ask employees to let you know what they liked best or used most in their coverages for this year. You may find you’re paying for things that sounded great on paper, but really weren’t worth the extra cost.
If employees respond they want more or different coverage, look into their suggestions and communicate how much it would cost. If you have overwhelming support for new options or changes, it’s something to consider. But remember, it’s not an unlimited wish list – cost versus need is the most important factor.
2. Review areas of concern from the past year
Were you getting a host of complaints from employees about benefit issues during this plan year? Were you hearing about lagging reimbursements or concerns about coverage? This is the time to discuss these issues with your carrier or plan provider.
For some issues, like high deductibles, you may have few options. But for others, there may be ways to adjust to better meet demand. Your carrier may suggest a liaison between staffers and the company to better answer questions or respond to concerns. Or you may find if they can’t come up with solutions that are viable, it might be time to review the policy and look for alternate providers.
3. Evaluate cost, and consider adding benefits
Now is the time to work with brokers or plan providers to make sure you’re getting the most benefits possible for your employees and the best possible price. Whether you work directly with a carrier or go through a third-party, ask them to review your current package and suggest any upgrades or changes that could provide better services to employees, or a rate reduction overall.
If you can, comparison shop outside your normal channels: let another carrier know what benefits you are currently using and ask if they can do better. The worst that can happen is you’ll confirm you’re getting the most you can from your current plan at your price point, but there may be a chance to get more.
Depending on feedback you received from employees, consider adding benefits to your current plan. Because of COVID-19, businesses are looking to amend their plan to include:
- Telemedicine: Employees can access doctors and specialists from their home
- Well-being technology: Think subscriptions to meditation apps, virtual stress management and nutrition classes, and wearable devices (like a Fitbit or Apple Watch) to track fitness activities
- Mobile health clinics: Schedule an on-site health clinic that employees can access without having to go to a medical facility. Health clinics can offer basic health screenings, immunizations, and education.
4. Get information on any changes to coverage for the coming year
Your carrier may be making changes to coverage for Plan Year 2021 and you’ll want as much information as early as possible. Contact them to request any changes and review them with your representative so you have a clear understanding of what is being added, deleted, or amended — and why.
Next communicate these changes to all staffers, and be ready to answer their questions for clarification. The more time you and your employees have to review any changes, the more informed choice they will be able to make at open enrollment, particularly if you offer more than one plan in each category.
If you’ve begun the process early, and employees still have questions, you may have time to have a benefits representative from your carrier talk to staff or take their calls for more information.
5. Check timelines
For businesses that purchase benefits through Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges, open enrollment begins November t, but is extended in some areas.
California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. have all extended their open enrollment periods to give you a bit more breathing room. The ACA platform will likely be updated this fall to include details and changes in coverage options.
6. Consider adding coverage
If you’re not currently providing healthcare coverage to employees, now is the time to start looking at options, costs, and services. One of the top benefits candidates look for in an organization is healthcare coverage. If you’re challenged to find or retain talent, it might be an excellent option to consider.
While coverages can be costly, they may pale in comparison to high turnover and low morale. There are many options available, either through ACA exchanges or private carriers. Reviewing options today and considering adding healthcare coverage for the coming year may help retain current employees and attract new employees.
If your organization doesn’t currently meet the requirements threshold under the ACA, but will for the coming year, consider looking into options sooner rather than later. There are choices available for SMBs at a variety of price points, but you won’t want to wait until the last minute to enroll. There can be stiff fines and penalties if enrollments aren’t timely.
7. Communicate what benefits you offer, widely and often
As you ask for input or uncover changes for 2021 coverage, make sure to constantly communicate with employees. The elections they make at the end of this year will impact them throughout 2021. Provide as much information as possible — as often as possible — to help them make the right elections for themselves and their families.
But remember not to overwhelm!
Here are some ways you can inform employees about the benefits you’ll be offering for open enrollment 2021:
- Have a benefits meeting: Schedule several meetings employees can drop in on, or hold one meeting and record it as a webinar so employees can “attend” when it’s convenient.
- Send reminder emails or text messages: Send out a series of messages focusing on different parts of open enrollment. One message may be about health care benefits, while another is about vision and dental.
Pro tip: Use your company’s People Hub or intranet to easily distribute information in one place.
Keep in mind, if you learn of a dozen changes to plans, for example, communicate them in small doses.
Let employees know there will be changes and updates to coverage for the coming year and send out 1 or 2 messages per week to make sure they understand what’s going to happen and have a chance to ask questions. This will help them better digest the information, and keep you from being overwhelmed with inquiries. Send out reminders they can review just before open enrollment starts, as well.
8. Make open enrollment easy for your employees
If you’re still enrolling employees manually, it might be time to upgrade your system. The annual enrollment process is a frustrating time drain for business owners and employees. Moving to an automated enrollment process not only saves time and money, it boosts employee experience.
Rather than waiting until the last minute to look into moving your enrollment to an online platform (you hate when your employees wait until the 11th hour), start shopping now. You’ll save time and resources, and gain access to a better system.
Online open enrollment platforms offer a variety of products and services to SMBs, at a variety of price points. Consider a Human Resources Information System to help automate open enrollment, collect employee data, and create a better user experience.