It may seem like a strange metaphor, but open enrollment is a lot like swimming in open water. You’re not confined to lanes in a pool. Suddenly, you have the ability to swim in any direction, wherever you want. It can be an exhilarating feeling, but it can also be scary and overwhelming.
The same is true with open enrollment. It’s exciting to have a sea of options, but there’s also plenty of uncertainty as employees try to make informed healthcare decisions. In fact, 52% of employees say that choosing a health plan is stressful, and nearly half (46%) are doubtful they’ve selected a medical benefits plan that delivers coverage at the lowest cost.
And the global pandemic only amplified this anxiety. A recent Experian study revealed that 78% of respondents’ household income was negatively impacted by COVID-19, and 69% were worried about their personal finances.
The good news is that HR teams (that’s you!) can help. It’s a golden opportunity to support your employees’ health and financial wellness, quell some of their worries, and help them make more informed healthcare decisions. What will it take? Not a whole lot. With a combination of nuanced operational strategies and employee-friendly open enrollment software, you’ll be well on your way to helping your stressed-out employees find their Zen.
1. Reframe how you talk about open enrollment
The words you use matter. Help employees understand that open enrollment is an opportunity. It’s not just the time of year when you choose your benefits. It’s also a built-in annual financial checkup, and it’s a great time to evaluate options and ultimately save money.
In fact, you can create an entire open enrollment campaign using positive messaging and employee empowerment to make informed healthcare decisions. Provide employee guidance on how to save money (e.g., contributing to a health saving account instead of their bank account, going to urgent care instead of the emergency room or asking for a generic drug in place of a brand name drug). Let them know that you’re on their side and available to answer questions or provide money-saving advice.
And you don’t have to communicate all of these tips yourself. Open enrollment software can help you provide support when employees need it most.
2. Use open enrollment as an opportunity to promote employee well-being.
We’ve heard it again and again in the past year: mental health has never been more important. And while it’s encouraging to see human resources folks increase their focus on this area, recent research shows there are still some gaps in benefits understanding when it comes to mental health. For example:
- 2/3 of employers offer an EAP, but only 1/3 of employees know an EAP is available to them
- 85% of HR folks say they advocate for their employees to seek mental health support, but 24% of employees don’t feel supported
So this open enrollment, double down on showing employees the mental health resources that are available to them. It’s not just about EAPs, either. For example, do you offer tuition assistance? Paid family leave? All of these benefits can go a long way in decreasing stress, reducing anxiety, and helping employees manage their personal lives in a healthier way.
If there’s still time, think about adding a few new wellness benefits, too. What were the top three benefits that people wanted in 2021? Fitness memberships, food allowances (in-office or at-home snacks and meals), and workplace stipends (for technology, desks, chairs, etc.).
3. Encourage active selections.
93% of employees choose the same health plans year after year. And that’s not because they know it’s the best plan for them, or they’re taking the time to think about their benefits selections every year. It’s because it’s what they know.
The truth is, employees’ circumstances could have changed since last year, and moving to a different plan could help them save hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. So make sure employees spend some time really thinking through which healthcare plan is right for them.
How? Make your benefits materials personal. We’ll talk more about what we mean by that in the next section.
4. Provide a personalized experience.
A quarter of employees are spending more than 7 hours trying to understand their health plan their own.
What does this mean? Even despite your best efforts, your employees are not getting what they need. That’s probably because each employee is different. They have different health, financial, and life circumstances. They have different priorities and goals. That’s why you need to provide benefits guidance that shows employees which healthcare plans are best for them personally.
For example, do they have multiple chronic conditions that require frequent visits to a doctor’s office? Are they on multiple medications? Do they anticipate an upcoming surgery? What about major life events like getting married or having a baby? If so, what type of coverage would make the most sense?
Outline the best- and worst-case cost scenarios for each plan you offer. Also encourage employees to think about how much cash they have on hand to pay for deductibles before they make their choice, especially if they’re leaning toward a high deductible health plan to save money on their monthly premium.
Offering one-on-one consultations with an HR manger or benefits advisor is one way you can provide employee guidance and help employees make informed healthcare decisions. But if you don’t have time for that (hint: you don’t), another option is to use benefits communication software—that asks questions and delivers personalized recommendations. Turns out, using technology is really effective too: 85% of employees that use a tool like ALEX say they have a better understanding of their plan options.
5. Give employees time to decide.
Nobody should feel rushed or pressured into a decision. Most open enrollment periods only last a week or two, which isn’t much time to make such big choices. Give employees all of your benefits materials in advance, so that they can start thinking about which plans will be the best fit for them in the coming year.
(Hopefully it’ll help spread out the questions you get too, so you’re not answering a million emails in one short week!)
6. Educate employees about regulatory changes.
For example, employees can shop around for affordable healthcare services thanks to a new federal rule that took effect January 1, 2021, requiring hospitals be transparent about their prices. This includes payer-specific negotiated charges for a variety of services that you can schedule in advance (e.g., joint replacement surgery, physical therapy, outpatient visits, and imaging and laboratory tests). Hospitals must provide real-time, personalized access to cost-sharing information, including an estimate of cost-sharing liability, through an internet based self-service tool.
Another important regulatory change is a new rule to protect consumers against surprise medical bills. This includes banning high out-of-network cost-sharing for emergency and non-emergency services, out-of-network charges for ancillary care, and more.
Help your employees understand what both of these regulations mean for them, and how they can capitalize on them to make more informed healthcare decisions.
7. Be visible.
Make sure employees know how to reach you when they have questions. Post signs and send emails, for example, with your contact information and how to access open enrollment software. Also note that not everyone will want to discuss their health status and concerns with you. Make it easy for employees to submit questions and receive answers anonymously.