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A Must-Have Checklist for Open Enrollment That Every Employer Needs

Posted by on Sep 8, 2016 in Affordability, People

 In this article published on September 8, 2016 in California Broker Magazine, Rob Carnaroli, vice president of Sales, Sutter Health Plus, discusses how brokers can help employers prepare for a smooth open enrollment process.  Sutter_Health_Plus_Rob_Carnaroli_6x9_7606

Open enrollment is fast approaching for many employers. Advance preparation can make the difference between a positive experience and one that frustrates you, your clients and their employees. As a broker, you can help your clients with a smooth and hassle-free process by addressing a number of important items:

Know why they offer benefits

First, establish clarity around why your clients offer benefits. Typically, it’s to retain valuable employees and attract talent in the marketplace. Addressing this reason up front sets the tone for discussions and activities that follow—from benefit plan design through enrollment and beyond.

Answer “what’s in it for me?”

While your clients often make benefits decisions with financial considerations in mind, their employees want to know how it affects them. They want to know “what’s in it for me,”—the WIIFM. Employees want to feel like their needs and the needs of their families are met, and that benefit offerings are robust enough to keep them around. The WIIFM question is one new talent asks too, as they consider the effect a job change might have on them and their families. The following will help employers answer this question.

Engage staff

People today expect to participate in, or at least understand, decisions that affect them. Your clients should consider eliciting employee perspectives early in health benefit discussions. Involve employees from different levels in the organization—administrative staffers, middle management, technicians or other professionals, and senior managers. Including a variety of ages and family situations gives your clients a broader perspective, too.

Often, the person who fills the HR position in a smaller firm wears other hats and would welcome employee input into benefit offerings. Building consensus takes the pressure off that individual, who may or may not feel qualified or comfortable making decisions on their own.

Set expectations

Before enrollment begins, make sure you and your client are on the same page. No one appreciates last minute changes or unexpected surprises. Set expectations around the length of the open enrollment period, what level of employee education needs to be provided, lead time for getting information to the carrier so plan documents and identification cards can be produced and distributed, and more.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Your clients’ employees should be fully aware of what’s happening with their health benefits. Employers should consider a variety of communication channels: group meetings, one-on-one discussions, information sheets or brochures, posters, social media posts, custom website content, digital decision-making tools, etc. This helps your clients get their employees on board with changes, options, timelines, and responsibilities.

“Early and often” is an overused cliché, but it’s valid. Repetition reinforces messages and minimizes knowledge gaps. So does variety. Your clients should consider designing communication pieces and activities based on their workforce demographics. Baby Boomers take in information differently than Gen-Xers or Millennials.

Leave industry jargon at home

HSAs, CDHPs, HDHCs, and HRAs. Acronyms represent an easy way for benefits enthusiasts to communicate, but industry lingo may confuse your clients and their employees. Ditch the alphabet soup and industry nomenclature. Spell things out in terms that everyone understands. Keep it simple.

Illustrate scenarios

Give your clients real-life scenarios to drive the message home and help employees understand their benefit options. For example, instead of simply presenting the various metallic plan levels to your clients, break down the benefit options in terms of family and health status. Use a few common scenarios—the healthy couple with two children; a person with a medical condition that requires costly medications and frequent trips to the doctor; the healthy young woman who rarely needs to visit the doctor. Then use these examples to explain what benefit plans each should seriously consider.

Identify the decision maker

While you most likely work with the decision maker at the business level, don’t forget about the decision maker at the employee level. In fact, it may not even be the employee—it’s no secret that women usually make health care decisions for the family. Help your clients understand this as they implement their communication plan. They should be prepared to answer questions multiple times and provide information that can be easily consumed and understood. 

Address special situations

If your client is changing carriers, you need to help them understand any coordination of care issues. Your client may have employees affected by such a change—an expecting mother or father, someone with a surgery schedule, an employee who needs a costly specialty medication. You need to work with the new carrier on the coordination of care protocols and procedures, and then communicate them to your client and any impacted employees.

This is by no means an exhaustive checklist. In fact, it could probably be twice as long—maybe more, when considering tasks that are required post-enrollment. But addressing these issues early will go a long way in ensuring a positive enrollment experience for your clients and their employees.

About the Author: Rob Carnaroli serves as vice president of Sales for Sutter Health Plus. Prior to joining the health plan in November 2014, Carnaroli served as Health Net’s Northern California director of sales and Health Net’s Western Region director of major accounts for Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington.