5 Tips to Best Manage a COVID Open Enrollment Season

Last Updated on December 3, 2020 by bigfish-admin

2020 is almost over – YAY! Let’s all scream, “Good riddance!” together. Right? But, not so fast. As quarter four of an incredibly trying year nears an end, open enrollment season is upon us — one like we have never experienced before. 

Open enrollment can be a challenging time for any business, and it’s likely to be even more difficult this year with 42% of the U.S. workforce working remotely. Following a rollercoaster year of COVID-19 and the transition to remote work, employers will need to manage open enrollment with a mostly displaced workforce. Despite another 2020 challenge, employers can take steps to avoid potential open enrollment pitfalls. 

1. Adjust benefit options to meet employees’ changing needs

The global pandemic and resulting fluctuation in the economy have altered the workplace tremendously, also changing the ways in which employees view and utilize benefits. In a Prudential survey of employees, 75% said due to the pandemic, they believe access to benefits through their employer is more important than ever before. 

During this open enrollment period, employees will be on the lookout for benefits that align with their evolving needs. It is ideal to make employees aware of new and existing benefits offered, such as: 

  • Telemedicine visits and 24/7 access to healthcare professionals 
  • Critical care benefits (ease of access to future COVID-19 vaccination) 
  • Mental health resources and support 

2. Offer flexible and virtual open enrollment sessions

Social distancing and remote work practices prevent employees from gathering for in-person open enrollment this year. However, it is important to connect employees with helpful resources when making their 2021 benefits selections. 

Virtual open enrollment still allows you to highlight plan and carrier changes while pointing out new features to employees. Try out these suggestions for the most impactful virtual open enrollment:

  • To increase employee attendance, schedule open enrollment meetings at various times throughout the week. Employees will prefer different times based on their responsibilities and personal time constraints. 
  • Record information provided during open enrollment sessions and make this available to employees. Allowing on-demand access outside of regular 9 to 5 working hours allows employees to focus on their tasks while still receiving the information they need. 
  • Establish dedicated virtual ‘office hours’ when employees know they can contact benefits and HR managers for individual assistance. 

3. Create clear and concise open enrollment documents  

Benefit information can be incredibly complex, and the process of selecting benefits becomes more complicated when employees have trouble understanding the information. In a MetLife survey, nearly half of respondents said they dreaded the benefit open enrollment process as much as asking for a raise, because they don’t understand the benefits information presented to them.

Given the available benefits options and variation in coverage, it is difficult to avoid giving employees a lot of documentation to help them in making their open enrollment decisions. However, employers can take steps to ease the information overload by making the information easier for employees to understand. Try out these tools when providing benefit information to employees: 

  • Supporting videos or session recordings explaining benefits coverage options. 
  • Infographics providing breakdowns and comparisons of coverage. 
  • PowerPoint presentations outlining key points of process. 

4. Utilize top benefits administration technology

With more employees working remotely than ever before, benefits enrollment must be a digital process, free from the constraints of paper processes and endless Excel sheets. By using an automated benefits administration solution offered through Big Fish, you ease the burden on HR and benefits staff while also making it easier for your employees to elect benefit coverage. 

Automation of benefits administration and open enrollment practices delivers the following benefits: 

  • Carrier Connectivity — Employee benefit elections flow directly to the carriers, reducing double-data entry and other enrollment delays. 
  • Employee Self-Service — Employees have access to side-by-side plan comparisons, complete summaries, and coverage documents. All employee benefit elections are made using an open enrollment portal. 
  • Dashboard Reporting — HR and benefit managers get real-time insights into all aspects of open enrollment and benefit administration. 

5. Plan ahead and adjust

The process of open enrollment will run smoother when you take the time to plan and anticipate employee questions and concerns ahead of time. Being proactive will not only put your employees at ease and help them make informed benefit decisions, it also shows your team members that you understand their needs and challenges. 

As you plan and execute open enrollment, consider the following: 

  • Should employer / employee share of benefit premiums be adjusted? 
  • Is it time for a dependent eligibility audit? 
  • What is the process for reconciling payroll with new benefit selections?

As with any process, you will also benefit from having a contingency plan in place. If you experience unanticipated changes on the carrier side or a company event coincides with open enrollment, you may need to schedule additional information sessions or even extend the open enrollment deadline. 

There is still time to make this year’s open enrollment season incredibly successful and as pain-free as possible. Follow these tips to give your employees a better open enrollment experience and a clearer understanding of the many benefits available to help them and their families during this time. 

If you have any questions regarding open enrollment season and how to best manage benefits administration for your business, contact Big Fish for a free review of your benefit practices with a business development consultant. 

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