De-Stressing Benefits: Helping Employees Prepare for Open Enrollment - Netchex

Open enrollment feels like the worst kind of game show. Most of the contestants don’t understand the rules. Despite that, everyone races against the clock, randomly choosing how much to gamble on their healthcare coverage. The most affordable coverage often leaves policyholders uncertain about whether they and dependents are fully covered.

Fortunately, HR teams can help improve transparency and education, while reducing stress during open enrollment. Make sure your employees have the time and resources to make informed decisions, and everyone can win the healthcare game show.

The (many) problems with open enrollment

It’s no secret that open enrollment is ridiculously stressful. Many workers report feeling intimidated about enrollment deadlines and vague coverage options. After the latest period of inflation, 79% of working Americans worry their workplace benefits will get more expensive during open enrollment. 

Many workers have had bad experiences with healthcare providers in the past, from missed deadlines to insurance that never seems to cover anything. HR can help reduce some of the biggest problems and fears with open enrollment.

Employees are intimidated and stressed

It’s expensive to buy more coverage than your family needs, but even healthy Americans spend a lot on healthcare. In 2020, potential out-of-pocket medical costs (premium and deductible) added up to 11.6% of median income. At the more expensive end, workers in some stats, including Mississippi, could spend 19% of their income on healthcare.

Deadlines add pressure and limit the time for employees to compare options. HR staff should use early announcements to get staff prepared for the financial decisions of open enrollment.

Medical emergencies and chronic conditions can quickly turn your life (and finances) upside down. When shopping for healthcare coverage, however, workers have to consider the worst-case scenarios. How could a debilitating injury or illness affect their family? When more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, there’s nothing set aside for a rainy day.

Employees don’t understand the offerings or their plan

Only 12% of Americans have proficient health literacy skills–according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services–which means that most of your employees don’t have the skills to decipher certain health-related decisions for themselves. Nationwide, low healthcare literacy might cost up to $236 billion per year. Many workers rely heavily on information from HR staff, even if you’re just passing along booklets from the healthcare provider.

Most employees don’t do their own research

Most employees rely solely on their employer and HR to explain health insurance options. Make sure the insurance brochures and packets you provide are clear, accurate, and up to date. 

Relatively few workers will do outside research. Around half of American workers are unaware or misinformed about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), including basic features like whether funds expire each year. In dual-income households, employees might compare the cost of covering the family through their spouse’s plan.

LEARN: Employee Benefits Management: Getting the Most Out of Your Benefits Plan

Last-minute decisions and missed deadlines

Stressed and uncertain, many employees delay decisions until the last minute or they miss open enrollment deadlines altogether. Rushed decisions can leave employees enrolled in plans that don’t meet their needs. Some overpay for unnecessary coverage and extras. For HR staff, the employees who miss deadlines can result in extra paperwork. Depending on your state, from 10 to 20% of the non-elderly population is uninsured

How to use open enrollment to show HR cares about employee healthcare year-round

Your HR teams can inform and prepare employees about healthcare plan choices. Instead of dumping information on workers during open enrollment, take a year-round approach to benefits and healthcare optimization.

Consider employee demographics, wants, and needs

Design relevant and engaging materials and programs for open enrollment by considering what matters to employees. Do your employees include a lot of parents, retirees, or teenagers? Different demographics have very different needs and priorities.

Workers already get a take-it-or-leave-it choice with employer healthcare benefits, but that doesn’t tell you what employees would like to see changed. Use one-on-one conversations and anonymous surveys to get more qualitative feedback.

READ: Using HR Surveys to Create a Culture of Employee Feedback

Develop a personal approach + simple communication

HR teams should think critically about their messaging. Are your announcements and reminders about open enrollment adding to the confusion and stress? Yes, reminders are important, but simple graphics are way more effective than dense paragraphs of jargon. Long, wordy emails (and even blogs, we’re told 😬) can cause eyes to glaze over.

Text messages are opened more consistently than emails. Use SMS reminders as a less intimidating alternative to emails. Reach out to individual workers and answer any questions about their personal circumstances. When policy changes affect several employees, a group discussion may help everyone adapt.

READ: Top Ten Tips for Improving HR Communication

Simplify and centralize the information

Make sure employees know where to find the information they need. Start with your onboarding material and any training sessions. Update your employee handbook ASAP to explain where employees can find their current benefits information. How should workers contact HR staff about questions?

  • Online portal

Use Healthcare Benefits Administration Software to manage secure portals for employees. Workers should have 24/7 access to their current coverage and any policyholder information they might need to update. Use the portal for messages and reminders about open enrollment.

DISCOVER: The Benefits and Must-Have Features of Employee Self-Service Portals

  • Educational multimedia

In the digital age, make sure you take advantage of videos, webinars, calculators, and educational materials online. Use a Learning Management System (LMS) for more effective employee training on topics like healthcare literacy. A quality LMS will include a prepared library of training videos and resources.

READ: Seven Reasons Why You Need a Learning Management System

Align benefits and payroll

Even the best benefits program can fall through without a reliable payroll system for deductions and premiums. Find out whether it’s time to switch to a new payroll provider. Employees should be able to see a breakdown of their recent pay and deductions without pestering HR staff. Workers feel powerless when they can’t access their information, but the latest HR software makes it easy to offer self-service features.

Follow up, evaluate, and continually improve the process

Never settle for “good enough” with employee benefits or payroll efficiency. The companies that stand still are falling behind competitors who offer new and emerging perks and benefits. Use 1-on-1s, employee surveys, and exit interviews to get honest feedback from workers. As your current staff becomes more literate in healthcare terminology, you’ll learn which concepts are most important for onboarding new hires.

Discover how Netchex can help make open enrollment less stressful for HR and your employees:

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