3 Benefits Enrollment Horror Stories, and What HR Can Learn from Them

3 Benefits Enrollment Horror Stories, and What HR Can Learn from Them

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Today we celebrate (is that the right word?) all things scary. And beyond the mummies, witches and werewolves, we know that few things can be scarier for HR departments than Open Enrollment—which, for most organizations, just happens to come around Halloween. Coincidence? I think not.

And while Open Enrollment might be the ghastliest ghoul of all, its creepy cousins, Initial Enrollment and Qualifying Life Event (QLE) Enrollment, can curdle the blood of even the bravest benefits professionals.

So, in the spirit of the day, here are three hair-raising benefits enrollment horror stories—one for each of the monsters mentioned above. But don't worry, they're not just meant to scare you. Each has a valuable lesson to take away, so you can keep your organization free of such frights.

1. Open Enrollment: Dawn of the (OE) Dead(line)

Stephen worked for a freight company as a long haul truck driver, on the road for weeks at a time. The couple of days off he had at home between trips was spent sleeping, doing laundry and catching up with friends. There was little time for anything else.

When open enrollment was approaching, Stephen's company sent a benefits packet to him in the mail, including the deadline by which he had to select his plan(s) or go uncovered. But, unsurprisingly, Stephen wasn't home at the time, and additional mail piled up on top of it. A short time later, the HR office sent him an email reminder to enroll, but Stephen was in the middle of a haul and didn't check his phone until hours later. By that point, other, more compelling emails had accumulated to co-opt his attention.

By the time Stephen finally found and opened his benefits packet, it was the morning of the last day to enroll. Later that night, after a day spent running around doing other errands, he logged into the company's ERP system on his home computer, but he had some trouble navigating the benefits site. He was tired and the system was confusing. He found the user instructions his company had provided, but as he read his eyelids got heavier and heavier...

...and the next thing he knew, Stephen was waking up the next morning, face-down on his keyboard, having missed the enrollment deadline and his chance to select health insurance for the upcoming year.

Lessons for HR

Meet employees where they are. For on-the-go workers, mobile benefits management is a must, especially if you're conducting an active enrollment. Having a mobile app to access benefits information and enrollment enables employees like Stephen to stay in the know and on top of things, wherever the road takes them.

Focus on tech user experience. If your benefits technology requires instructions to navigate, enrollment becomes a time-consuming chore for your employees, one they may put off and end up forgetting to do. For greater efficiency and satisfaction, make sure you're providing an intuitive user experience that brings clarity to the enrollment process.

Cut through the communication clutter. The HR team in the story sent Stephen a reminder email, but it got lost in a crowded inbox. Studying up on marketing tactics can help you build a more strategic communication plan and craft compelling messages that employees can't ignore.

Watch this on-demand webcast to learn proven communication techniques and tips from the Benefitfocus marketing team!

2. QLE Enrollment: Rosemary's (Uninsured) Baby

Rosemary, a university professor, was thrilled to have given birth to her first child. But it was a complicated pregnancy, and Rosemary required an extended stay at the hospital. Needless to say, there were a lot of distractions for her.

She knew she needed to get her baby added to her insurance, so she included that on an ever-growing list of tasks for her husband to take care of while she focused on healing. But a perfect storm of circumstances would prove disastrous.

For one thing, Rosemary's husband was somewhat of a scatterbrain—prone to bouts of forgetfulness and not well suited for multitasking. At the same time, the university Rosemary worked for relied on a legacy ERP system to manage benefits. Life event changes to benefits, such as triggered by the birth of a child, required employees to both 1) add a new dependent to their coverage through the ERP system and 2) mail or fax supporting documentation to the university's HR office within 30 days of the event.

Rosemary's husband managed to do the first of those, but only after locking himself out of Rosemary's ERP system account because he didn't have her login credentials correct. As for the second task, he tried to fax over the baby's birth certificate, but it didn't go through, and he forgot to check for a confirmation, moving on to other tasks on his list. The 30-day window expired, and the university hadn't received supporting documentation for the life event change...

...so they terminated coverage retroactive to the birth. Fortunately, Rosemary made a full recovery, but she and her husband were now 100-percent on the hook for their baby's medical bills.

Lessons for HR

Trade faxes for photos. With the birth of a new baby, a marriage or a death in the family, people have enough going on without having to fill out and fax/mail forms for their benefits. Make it easier on your employees with a mobile-friendly QLE change experience that allows them to simply snap a photo and upload supporting documentation. If Rosemary had that option, she probably could have taken care of everything, herself, from her hospital bed.

Empower the dependent. Rosemary's poor husband was overwhelmed by all the tasks pushed onto him, and getting locked out of his wife's benefits account was an unnecessary challenge. By giving dependents like him their own personal login information to your benefits system, you can avoid situations where the employee is unable, for whatever reason, to complete important benefit changes.

Over-communicate. It's likely that Rosemary received a warning from her HR office, insurance carrier or both that she still hadn't submitted her supporting documentation for the QLE change. But, incapacitated as she was, it's also likely she missed those warnings. With automated, event-driven notifications, though, Rosemary's HR team could have set up a rule to automatically push reminder messages – email and/or text – out to Rosemary once a day following the initial benefit change in the system. 

Witness the convenience of mobile QLE benefit changes in this demo video!

3. Initial Enrollment: Scream(ium)

After graduating college, Sidney accepted an entry-level corporate job at a national retailer. Saddled with significant student loan and credit card debt, she was on a tight budget.

For her initial benefits enrollment, Sidney logged into her company's ERP system and saw she had two medical plan options—a traditional PPO plan or a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). The system displayed the monthly premium for each plan, but nothing else.

The HR representative who on-boarded Sidney had given her a thick benefits packet outlining the details of her plan options. But Sidney, not well versed in insurance concepts and terminology, had trouble understanding the information and put the packet aside pretty quickly. So, looking at the two plans in the ERP system, and noticing that the premium for the HDHP was $100 less per month, Sidney just went with the HDHP. She thought she'd just saved $1,200. How very wrong she was.

Two months later, Sidney was playing in a rec league kickball game. Jumping to try to make a catch, she felt – and heard – a pop in her knee. An MRI came back negative for any ligament tears, but within a couple weeks...

...Sidney received a bill for $3,000 from the hospital. With her HDHP's $3,500 deductible, she was on the hook for the full cost of the MRI. If she had gone with the PPO plan option, she would have only been responsible for a $250 copay. And even with $1,200 more in premium, it would still be less than half of the amount she now owed.

Lessons for HR

Provide just-in-time education. When Sidney logged into the benefits system, the only information presented to her was the name of each medical plan and the corresponding premium. The benefits packet had all the details, but it overwhelmed Sidney and was ultimately not helpful. If she had the option to learn about her options as part of the enrollment process, such as by clicking on a quick explainer video, she would have been in a better position to make an informed decision.  

Personalize plan shopping. For even greater context, Sidney could have benefited from plan comparison tools to help her determine how each plan would impact her life. For instance, the ability to estimate total out-of-pocket costs for each plan based on national-average claims data for someone like her would have allowed her to better understand her coverage needs, and how each plan aligned with those.

Position voluntary benefits. In selecting the HDHP, Sidney took on significant financial risk, which was realized in her accident on the kickball field. If your medical plans carry high out-of-pocket costs, you can protect employees from the unknown by bringing voluntary benefits into the mix as options for them to build additional financial security. And by enabling employees to learn about and enroll in these benefits in the context of medical plan enrollment, you increase the likelihood that employees get the combination of coverage they need.

For more on how to avoid horror stories like these, watch this on-demand webcast featuring five simple steps to a stress-free open enrollment season.