Enrollment season Featured

11:11am EDT September 30, 2005
It isn’t surprising that some employers look upon the enrollment season with a bit of dread. The last several years have delivered ever-increasing benefits costs, which many companies have been compelled to share with employees through higher premiums or changing benefits. In addition, a new generation of health plans has expanded the role that employees play in managing their health-care decisions. These trends, among others, have made open enrollment more important, more complex and more emotionally charged than ever.

Yet despite these realities — or perhaps because of them — many smart employers have seized on the open-enrollment process as a means to strengthen employees’ understanding of their benefits and the overall function of rewards in the context of the business.

Advance planning and timely communications with employees can make a huge difference. Here are a few ideas to help you prepare.

n Define your goals. As you approach open enrollment, establish your organization’s goals. Do you want everyone signed up by a certain date so ID cards arrive by the new year? Are you hoping that half of your employees will choose a consumer-directed health plan? Your carriers should be ready to work with you to help you establish the right blend of benefits features, employee contributions and marketing efforts to achieve your enrollment goals.

n Plan your approach. Based on your goals, create a workable timeline so that employees and managers have the right information at the right time. For example, if you are working with your health insurance carrier to offer new online tools, make sure your IT team is at the table early. Similarly, you may want to include your front-line managers in early discussions of upcoming benefits changes. Make sure you give employees enough time to assemble, analyze and discuss plan information with family members before the enrollment deadline.

n Get the messages right. In addition to anticipating targeted information needs within your company, take the time to create general messages that both explain plan changes and the context that surrounds them. For example, if co-payments are increasing, highlight the overall claim increase the company itself is absorbing. In talking about changes, make sure to explain what is not changing as well. This gives employees a more balanced picture and puts overlooked-but-valuable existing benefits into the spotlight.

n Communicate through multiple media. Before the actual enrollment kit reaches your employees, you should share information in multiple, diverse ways. Your health insurance carrier should offer resource materials, such as newsletter articles, brochures or posters to get you started. Whenever possible, take advantage of existing communication channels, such as the company newsletter and staff meetings to get the message out and underscore the integration of benefits issues into your overall business success.

Note that, in many cases, plan changes will impact each employee differently. You should anticipate these issues and be prepared to help employees understand your company’s need to revise its benefit structure. Ask your health benefits carrier if they have information tools available to help your employees evaluate the plans offered based on their own health benefit consumption.

n Gauge your success. After enrollment is over, compare your results to the initial goals you set. Too often, companies rely on anecdotal feedback. You need hard facts. Conduct a simple e-mail survey that asks: “Did you receive your ID cards when they were promised?” or “Were you given the right information to make an informed decision about your medical plan choices?” Your health insurance carrier may be able to help you link your survey to an online enrollment process, if your company uses one.

Based on the success of your open enrollment process, you may want to work with your health insurance carrier to get an early start in planning for next year. The more you communicate the power of your benefits programs throughout the seasons, the less daunting — and more enriching — this ritual of open enrollment will be for you and for your employees.

THOMAS J. SCURFIELD is vice president of sales and service for the Aetna’s north central east region and is based in Cleveland. He has more than 25 years of experience working in employee benefits and holds both the Chartered Life Underwriter and Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designations. Reach him at (330) 659-8020 or ScurfieldT@aetna.com.