Often, in your first meeting with a benefits broker about open enrollment, you may find yourself doing more listening than talking. Brokers have lots of data and ideas to share, and in their enthusiasm to be indispensably helpful, they might not let you get a word in edgewise.
To prevent this from happening, think in advance about the items YOU want on the agenda. Then, in the weeks leading up to your first planning meeting, reach out to make sure your benefits broker is prepared to discuss those items when you get together.
Here are 10 high-level requests to make, regardless of your particular goals or priorities. (If you don’t have a broker yet, then check out our post with eight questions to ask benefits brokers before you hire them. After all, this is one of the most important decisions you can make as a benefits professional. No pressure.)
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Ask for a “touch-base” schedule (to prevent surprises)
When brokers get busy, they can be hard to reach. And if you’re not checking in with your broker, there’s a good chance something will slip through the cracks.
Ask your broker to create a “touch-base” schedule that takes you through the end of open enrollment. Suggest short monthly updates, then a longer session a few weeks before open enrollment starts, and a final recap a week or so after open enrollment ends. You can touch base by phone or email – but the quicker these dates get on your calendars, the more secure your collaboration will feel.
Ask for a simple summary of the financial report
If you’ve never seen a benefits financial report, you’re in for a treat – especially if you’re self-insured. Imagine if a truck full of accounting spreadsheets hit a train carrying the world’s biggest financial PowerPoint presentation. Seriously, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the raw data, especially if you don’t have a sense of the big picture.
Ask your insurance broker to put together a one-page summary that covers the high points. It’ll help you during the meeting, and afterwards you’ll have an easy-to-understand reference you can review and share with others at your company when you’re talking about how to combat rising healthcare costs.
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Ask about benefits compliance updates
Federal, state, and local laws change all the time. Even the most proactive HR leaders may miss a new regulation here and there – or they may not know how leaders at other companies are responding to the changes.
Well before your open enrollment planning meeting, make sure your broker is up-to-date on benefits compliance. Make sure you’re both ready to discuss how any major changes may impact your benefits strategy for the upcoming year (and beyond). For example, increased insurance reimbursement for telehealth services may make it worthwhile to expand the telehealth services you currently offer. Or, new government policies for family leave may mean your policy that had once been generous now only meets the bare minimum – and could put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Ask about support for wellness programs
Our recent 2021 HR Priorities Report found that companies across the board are increasing their investments in benefits that support “whole-person health.” This is more than your run-of-the-mill step challenge or discounted gym membership. It’s a comprehensive benefits plan that includes things like mental health support, chronic condition management, and even financial wellness services.
We learned a lot in 2020, and one of the most important lessons was the role that employers can play in providing physical, mental, and emotional support to employees and their families, both directly and through third-party services. Make sure your employee benefits broker is up to the task and can connect you to a wide array of services to provide this much needed and highly valued support.
Ask about additional services included with their fee
It’s a given that your broker will handle your vendors, negotiate prices and provide you reports. But many offer additional or ancillary services that are included as part of their fee – services you may not be taking advantage of. Ancillary services can vary, but some brokers provide HR specialist support, salary market data, wellness experts, and basic health care guidance from their on-site attorney.
Ask your benefits broker to email you a list of any other services included with your existing fee that you may not be using. If any of those sound interesting or helpful, ask your heart out during the meeting. This can only help you round out your benefits offerings.
Ask about streamlining the enrollment process
Simply put, a good employee benefits broker should help your company streamline open enrollment. The last thing you need is a cumbersome process managed by email and spreadsheet – or, worse, pen and paper. That’s the stuff of HR nightmares – and your employees don’t like it, either.
It’s important to ask your broker how they support open enrollment, from tracking and record-keeping to enrollment itself to employee education and communication. Make sure the broker’s workflows are consistent with industry best practices as well as your own company culture and employee expectations. An emphasis on in-person sessions, for example, may not be the right fit if your firm has many satellite offices or a majority of employees working remotely. The more that your benefits broker can help to automate the open enrollment process, the smoother the process will be for everyone.
Ask about upgrading your benefits communication
The sooner you talk to your broker about benefits communication, the better. You don’t want to be scrambling to find and implement a communication solution just before open enrollment.
Ask that your broker comes to the meeting ready to talk about two communication tools that would be a good fit for your company. Ideally, these tools would help your employees make smarter choices during open enrollment AND provide education throughout the year. If something sounds promising, ask to be included in a full demo as soon as possible, so you’re equipped to make a decision sooner rather than later.
Ask about year-round benefits management support
Your employee benefits communication plan should cover the full year, not just the weeks leading up to open enrollment. One of the questions to ask your benefits broker is how they can support this year-round communication plan through ongoing engagement, education, and decision-making.
This support is critical. Think about the major life events that require employees to make important benefits decisions outside of open enrollment: getting married, getting divorced, having a child, receiving a medical diagnosis, seeing a partner lose a job, getting in an accident, buying a house, and so on. At these important times, employees and their families need as much support as possible. Knowing how you can lean on your employee benefits broker will help you give employees the help they need when they need it.
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Ask for recommendations beyond next year
While long-term planning shouldn’t be the core focus of your open enrollment planning meeting with your employee benefits broker, it’s important to at least plant the seed in their mind that you’re thinking about more than just the upcoming year.
Every company has long-term goals. No matter whether you’re planning to enter new markets, go public, or double your headcount, you need to think about how your business strategy will impact benefits offerings. What benefits will help you attract top talent, increase your valuation, or compete in a new geographic area? The sooner you ask your benefits broker, the sooner they can lay out a long-term employee benefits strategy.
Ask about new technologies and tools
Remember our advice to ask about the additional services included with your fee, and anything that will streamline the enrollment process? Technology should be a big part of that conversation.
Ultimately, you need to make sure you’re using all the tools at your disposal. What mobile apps or websites can give employees access to the right benefits at the right time? Are there new technologies or services available this year that your broker wasn’t able to offer last year? Is your broker positioned to help onboard employees?
At Jellyvision, we know how the right technology can make a big difference in open enrollment. The ALEX Benefits Counselor uses a simple one-on-one conversation to understand employees’ benefit needs and provide recommendations for medical, dental, vision, and voluntary benefits offerings – no matter how complex the plan design.
Using ALEX, 85% of employees better understand their benefits choices, while employers save an average of $2,000 per employee when individuals enroll in the right benefits for their needs.