5 Steps to a Successful Fall 2015 Open Enrollment (OE)

If you’re like most benefits administrators, you know that open enrollment (OE) goes beyond the exercise of actually enrolling employees in their benefits. Most successful open enrollments are the result of year-round continuous improvement through planning, monitoring, and communicating with your employees. Here are five ways every benefits administrator can help ensure a successful 2015 OE.

Profile your workforce in Q1

Once the dust settles from OE toward the end of Q1, analyze your past years’ claims data, and identify the percentage of your workforce that is driving costs. It’s also important to understand the demographics of your workforce in order to design a plan that balances their needs with your budget and retention goals. Then benchmark your data to industry averages, and design a plan that will help you achieve your future state. Data visualization technology, can simplify data analysis using easy-to-interpret graphics. You can quickly pinpoint how your plans performed in the past and, more importantly, predict future plan cost and performance. Conduct your plan analysis early, but don’t limit your analysis to an annual event. Thanks to visualization technology, it’s easier to continuously monitor your plans and identify improvement opportunities year-round.

Identify process improvements in Q1 & Q2

What are your top sources of process waste? For the benefits administrators with whom we work, payroll audit and reconciliation and accurate data exchange are two of the most significant sources of time and talent waste. If you’re a benefits administrator, you know how difficult it is to manage payroll deduction discrepancies manually. Even more frustrating is retroactively managing premium payments. And related to premiums is the accurate exchange of data between you and your carriers. Benefits management technology can reduce these sources of waste by giving you visibility into what’s causing them. So instead of looking for discrepancies, technology can bring them to you, alleviating time-consuming detective work.

Design a plan that fits your workforce in Q3

Customization is often thought of as a costly endeavor. Yet it’s the personalized experience that we all expect from online shopping that’s also driving better employee retention rates and increased benefits participation. The key is informed choice. Robust benefits management technology, enables you to offer more choices that can keep your workforce happier and healthier and the decision support tools they need to feel empowered and confident with the decision they are making. For example, let’s say you have a number of employees approaching retirement. Do you offer plans to encourage saving to help these employees cover medical costs during retirement, such as Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)? An HSA can also help attract and retain part time and benefits ineligible employees, including seasonal employees. For example, let’s say you have a workforce demographic that is predominately younger (millennials) and healthier. Do they know that by selecting an HDHP plan they can have a lower premium while saving towards retirement with an HSA?

Remember that what fits your workforce today, may not fit as well tomorrow. Whether change affects your workforce demographics, the benefits industry in general, legislation or a combination of factors, look for benefits management technology that’s flexible. Consider benefits technology that’s extensible and doesn’t lock you in to a specific carrier or funding arrangement. The right technology can enable you with more options in the short and long term to help your employees better manage their health and wealth. In parallel, you gain greater flexibility to design plans that are not only cost effective, but also competitive.

Start communications planning early in Q2!

Don’t let your communications plan be an afterthought. Start as soon after open enrollment as possible—at least start by the beginning of Q2—six months before the next OE. So much time and effort go into benefits planning, make sure you communicate your benefits in a way that’s relevant and timely to each associate. Benefits management technology lets you segment your workforce and communicate what’s important to each segment. Take advantage of automation technology to run educational campaigns and provide more readily consumed bites of information that help your employees keep their benefits top of mind throughout the year.

Communication is even more important when it comes to change. Let’s say you’ve discontinued a plan. Communication helps employees better understand their new offerings and feel more comfortable about the changes and their choices. Consider tools that let them view plan options side by side and understand what their cost could be with other options based on their historical and estimated plan usage.

Then there are life changes. Communication beyond OE helps ensure employees understand their benefits when they matter most—in the midst of a major life event such as having a baby. When you approach benefit communications with the full benefits lifecycle in mind, you give employees a broader perspective on how all their benefits work together to protect their health and wealth. Even better they really start to see the total reward package offered by their employer. The result is that they are more likely to choose the right benefits and feel satisfied.

Everyone needs a little help sometimes in Q3

Consider you current team’s capacity, the size of your workforce, geographic location and any specific needs of a given workforce demographic. While you may have the staff to support 80 percent of your workforce, the remaining 20 percent can represent a significant portion of time. Asking an already taxed HR staff to work extended hours to pick up the slack can reduce overall productivity and may not address the needs of the workforce.

Consider outsourcing to be your first level of support for your entire workforce or segments of your workforce where services other than basic phone or email support are required. For many HR teams, telephonic enrollment is the answer to helping employees select the right benefits. Look for a benefits service center that is properly trained in guiding callers to the right benefits including the details of the plans you’re offering. Think of it as expanding your internal resources – support you trust to keep your culture, brand and focus centered around better serving your employees. Outsourcing the right benefit service center capabilities can provide additional perks and time-saving services such as bilingual telephone support, extended hours support, dependent verification audit (DEVA) and fulfillment for benefits-related postal mailings.

The benefits lifecycle offers a continuous improvement model for open enrollment that’s similar to Dr. W. Edwards Demming’s plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. Successful open enrollment starts with a long-range “plan.” The actual open enrollment timeframe is typically 2-3 weeks and is a result of year-long, advanced planning with a perspective of the broader benefits lifecycle and an assessment of your workforce—the “do” in the PDCA cycle. “Check” is an ongoing process during and post OE. In fact Q2 – Q3, is the time to check what worked well this past open enrollment and what improvement opportunities exist for the upcoming OE. Then “act” on the improvement opportunities and “do” better this next OE.

Learn how you can simplify this year’s OE with benefits management technology that lets you address today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges.

Visit Benefitfocus at SHRM 2015 Booth #2138 to learn more about how you can simplify this year's OE with benefits management technology and share your OE success tips on Twitter using #OE2015tips.