6 Tips for Benefits Open Enrollment in 2014

6 Tips for Benefits Open Enrollment in 2014

With the changing health insurance and benefits landscape, there is a great deal of confusion occurring in the workforce, and the upcoming open enrollment season will be different than others in the past. Employers will be faced with the need to communicate and educate employees on health care reform and the benefits options available to them. In addition, organizations may be forced to identify alternative health care options or modify existing ones to cope with rising costs.

Here are six (6) tips for benefits open enrollment in 2014.

1. Review and modify your coverage.

Carefully review your health insurance policy changes each year and compare your current benefits package to your new one. Be sure to review all costs for health care services, spousal and dependent coverage options, as well as your premium costs. Consult health insurance related benchmark information from surveys as well as your broker on different options and modify accordingly. Perhaps even gather feedback from your employees on what they like and dislike about different health care/benefits options you are considering.

Recognize that cheaper doesn’t always mean better, however, and there are often trade-offs associated with switching health insurance providers, less expensive plans, or lower premium increases. Before you opt out of your current plan, do your homework and make sure that’s the right decision for your business and employees.

2. Consider multiple plans or options.

Health care reform regulations are predicted to have a huge impact on premium rates in the coming years. Though the actual cost increases are still uncertain, some organizations are experiencing shocking hikes already, namely smaller employers.

Studies show that employers are mainly targeting plan design to cope with these premium increases. Though some are switching providers, others are offering multiple health plans or health insurance options, such as a core plan and a health savings account, or two plan designs with different cost sharing scenarios. In fact, health savings accounts and consumer-driven health care in general have experienced a significant increase in usage, and have been shown to positively affect health insurance costs.

3. Explore supplemental/voluntary benefits.

More employers are incorporating voluntary benefits/supplemental insurance into their benefits plans to assist in decreasing health care costs and provide more options. These include accident, long-term care, critical illness, disability, and other types of insurance benefits. Studies are predicting that the usage of these types of voluntary benefits will rise from now until 2018.

4. Educate employees on health insurance basics.

Most employees don’t understand their health insurance plans fully, and some don’t even understand the basics. In addition, many employees don’t understand the changes to their policies in the open enrollment process, and some even reportedly make mistakes in the open-enrollment process.

With health insurance options changing, employees will need some education on health insurance basics. Providing definitions and examples of co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance, and out of pocket maximums are helpful. Avoid jargon and use language that everyone understands.

Having your internal benefits specialist, HR manager, broker, and even senior leaders participate in these discussions can be helpful. Try to also use other forms of communication, such as handouts and graphics to help communicate this information. In addition, have someone on staff available to answer questions about health insurance.

5. Discuss health care reform and trends.

Familiarize yourself with health care reform regulations and use open enrollment as a time to talk frankly about health care reform and the potential impact of the law on your organization’s health insurance coverage, eligibility, and costs.

Because the law is so complicated, be sure to focus on the most current changes. The business realities, facts, and implications of this law should be discussed honestly with employees. At the same time, try not to politicize your education of health care reform. In some organizations, there can be strong political opinions regarding the law – especially if it directly impacts your business – but it’s important to keep your education and communication as objective as possible to be respectful of employees’ personal and political views.

6. Communicate your plan and level of coverage.

Finally, be sure to communicate information about your company’s benefits coverage, including the current level of premium that you cover, and any expected changes to benefits that you are making or considering. Communicate clear cost information to employees so they understand what they will need to pay and how their benefit is changing.

Also, as a best practice, be clear on the reasons for any changes you are making to your benefits plan. Your employees will appreciate an upfront and honest approach, even if the changes aren’t necessarily positive.

This year’s open enrollment season will be the first one impacted by the Affordable Care Act. Not only are employers starting to see the impact of the law on their health insurance premiums, but employees will have new health care options available to them in the expanded health insurance marketplace.

Be sure that you take time during open enrollment to make sure employees understand not only your health plan and how it may be changing, but the impact of health care reform on them and your business. This is a great opportunity to educate employees about the evolving benefits landscape.

Additional Resources

ERC Survey Data
ERC offers a variety of survey data to help your organization benchmark health insurance plans and costs. These include our Policies & Benefits Survey as well as our Wellness Practices Survey and Workplace Practices Survey.

ERC Health
ERC Health has consistently and significantly beat the market relative to annual premium rate adjustments. This fully-insured program for employers with 2 to 500 benefit-eligible employees, provides employers the tools necessary to reduce claims and manage health insurance costs.