Employee Benefits Open Enrollment Mistakes
  • Benefits Strategy

Don't Be Haunted by These Open Enrollment Mistakes

It’s All Hallow's Eve! The time of year when the walls between the worlds are porous, enabling spirits to pass through, and headless ghosts, howling witches and groaning Frankenstein monsters are haunting the streets for innocent bystanders. Pretty scary, right?

As hair-raising as that sounds, there is something even scarier—the haunting effects of an open enrollment gone wrong.

Last year, we brought you three benefits enrollment horror stories from an employee's perspective. Now, it’s time to turn the tables. Here are a pair of scream-inducing scenarios from a benefit administrator's perspective.

These thrillers aren’t meant to paralyze you, but to help you keep the creatures from lurking up behind and haunting you for the rest of eternity (or, at least, for the next plan year).

Scenario 1: Sally and the Sadistic Phone

Sally, the sole benefits administrator for a large retail company, supports more than 5,000 employees. In order to give employees more choice in benefits and remain competitive in the job market, the company has decided to include new consumer-directed health care options in their upcoming open enrollment period.

Sally feels confident this will be a great addition to the benefits package and has worked with her medical carrier and technology provider to help ensure the new options are configured and ready for open enrollment. She thinks all of the boxes are checked, but feels like something may be missing…

On the night before open enrollment, Sally is fast asleep when, all of a sudden, the witching hour strikes and her phone rings. Groggily, she wakes up to answer, but no one is there. Was this a random misdial or a premonition of things to come?

The next day arrives and open enrollment begins. Sally gets to work, but has no time to grab coffee, open her computer or even set her bag down before her office phone starts ringing. It’s Phil from the accounting department, wondering if Sally can explain what an HDHP is and if he should select that option. As soon as she hangs up the phone, it rings again. This time it’s Pauline from one of their local stores, asking Sally how an HSA works and how much she should contribute. Then, her cell phone and work phone start ringing simultaneously.

On and on, call after call comes in to Sally. She hasn’t even had time to get up from her desk, much less work on any of her other job responsibilities. Sally realizes she’s stuck in a Twilight Zone episode of never-ending open enrollment calls. Will she ever be able to escape?

How to avoid this scary situation…

A poor open enrollment communications plan can leave employees confused about their options, leading to an influx of questions to the benefits office. Here are a few considerations for an informed workforce and a smooth, stress-free open enrollment:

  • Communicate early and often. A strong communications strategy is one that’s planned in advance, has messages crafted for specific audiences and has thought around when those messages are delivered. Your benefits technology should enable you to do this with features like targeted messaging and options for delivering communications through other channels like SMS text. Need help getting started? Check out our Open Enrollment Success Kit.
  • Provide an enrollment experience with just-in-time education. You want employees to have every possible advantage in making their benefit decisions. That means continuing to provide helpful information as they're enrolling. Look for a technology provider that enables just-in-time education through features like videos embedded in the enrollment experience.  
  • Rely on a partner for help. Even with a strong communications plan and just-in-time education, there will still be employees who need some extra help. That’s why you should consider partnering with a Benefits Service Center that can act as an extension of your benefits team to help field any calls or questions employees may have.
Scenario 2: Dark Shadows of Bad Data

Scott recently landed a new job, joining a benefits team at a company with roughly 1,000 employees, and their open enrollment just concluded. With the addition of new voluntary benefit options, the company now works with nine different insurance carriers and product suppliers. Scott has been asked to lead the charge in transferring the company's enrollment information to each of these partners.

He's walking into a haunted house of data.

The company's HRIS benefits module tracks health care coverage and enrollment, but it does not have automated data transmission to the carriers, leaving Scott to handle the process manually.

Each day is like Groundhog Day with enrollment data and spreadsheets, files that need to be sent, and delays in enrollment processing. It’s getting close to the new year, and Scott's supervisor is questioning if enrollment files will be fully processed by the carriers in time for employees’ plans to kick in and ID cards to be delivered.

It's two weeks into the new year by the time Scott has finished his tedious manual data transfer process. But that would just be the beginning…

A week later, Scott’s supervisor receives a call from an employee who's at the doctor’s office with his young son. The employee states that his son is no longer listed as a dependent on his insurance and wonders how that could be. A few days later, another call comes in. This time, the employee shares that she just returned from a brief hospital visit for a broken limb. She'd elected the company's voluntary accident plan during open enrollment, yet when she went to submit a claim through the carrier, she learned that a policy for her doesn't exist. The calls and emails keep coming into the benefits office as errors in data processing continue to unfurl. 

Scott realizes that bad data casts a long and dark shadow.

How to avoid this scary situation…

Manual data exchange can have serious, lasting effects on your company and the employees you serve. Coverage delays, lack of coverage, incorrect coverage or even missing dependents are unexpected misfortunes that can result from poor data quality. Following these principles can help you avoid this happening at your company:

  • Work with a technology partner focused on system performance and data accuracy. Technology can help solve for the increasing complexity in benefits. But it’s important to work with a partner that places a primary focus and investment in data quality, accuracy and timeliness, and is able to adapt and scale as your company's needs evolve. Ask your benefits technology provider what processes they have in place to monitor and maintain system performance.
  • Feel confident with high visibility into your data. With so many files sent between your technology provider, insurance carriers, payroll and other systems, wouldn’t it be nice to have assurances that those files are maintaining their quality and accuracy along the way? Technology that provides constant visibility into the movements of your data can give you confidence that everything is in order. And if it's not, you're able to act quickly to make sure any mistakes are fixed before it's too late.

Want to make sure these haunting tales don't happen to you? Cover all of your bases with the Definitive Guide to Benefits Management Technology.