Analyzing and improving open enrollment

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This is the final article in a 10-part series on successful open enrollment. Previous segments can be found here.

Open enrollment periods, by nature, are short, so when the dust settles and everyone’s paperwork is submitted, it is a great time to look back at what went right and what went wrong so that next year’s sign-up period goes more smoothly.

Among the post-enrollment steps recommended by benefits experts:

· Poll the workforce. Surveying employees is a good way to determine if the open enrollment process was as seamless as a company hoped it would be.
· Talk with employees. Another great way to get feedback is to have post-enrollment Q&A sessions after employees have had a few days to digest all of the information they were provided. Many people don’t have questions until after they’ve combed through all of the material. “We have done that with a couple of clients and that worked well,” says Shannon Zajec, managing partner at Employers Select Insurance Services, a benefits broker offering advice, education and tools.
· Conduct post-enrollment analysis. Zajec and her team sit down with employee benefit professionals at their client companies after open enrollment season is over and talk about what went wrong and what they can do to improve the process the next year.
· Review employee communication. It’s important when open enrollment is completed to go back and determine which forms of communication were effective. If a particular campaign did not help the company achieve its open enrollment goals, the benefits professionals should circle back and determine what might work better in the future. Zajec recommends that even small companies develop a web portal that includes all of an organization’s required and educational documents so that employees can access it at any time with ease.
· Examine technology use. Web-based software providers are becoming more cost-effective, which allows much smaller employers to take advantage of online open enrollment. Michael Tracy, managing principal at OMNI Human Resource Management, a human resources consulting firm, encourages employers who haven’t looked at a technology component in a while to take a second look. It can make the benefit enrollment process more efficient and accurate.
· Consider the effectiveness of incentives. Getting people to attend enrollment meetings is difficult. One of Zajec’s clients raffles off gift cards and other small gifts as an incentive to get people to attend the meeting. “A lot of employees don’t think it is important. But companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on health plans, so they want employees to sit down and get a better understanding of it,” she says. After open enrollment, revisit any incentives that were offered to see if they were effective. Find out if more people attended open enrollment meetings than in prior years.
· Reconsider timing. Zajec recommends that employers hold open enrollment for company-sponsored retirement plans off cycle, meaning a month or two after healthcare open enrollment. “That gives employees a little more time to digest that really important piece.”
· Plan on starting earlier next year. One of the ways Zajec handles such a busy time as open enrollment is by starting the process very early. The moment she gets new health insurance plan information from the various insurance carriers, she contacts her clients immediately. “We are using a dynamic modeling system that can really show them what the employer is contributing versus the employee’s contribution and what tweaks we could make along the way to meet the employer’s budget by modeling different plans,” she says.

By starting the process early, employee benefit professionals can make a decision about what plans they want to offer in a timely manner and then they can get to work updating the website and doing all of the back-end work. Employees need at least 10 days to 30 days to make their choices. “Some companies try to cram it into a two-day decision-making process, but they need at least 10 full days to make a decision and, ideally, more,” Zajec says.

But no matter what steps are taken, open enrollment is rarely an easy task.

“The ongoing conundrum with year-end traditional benefit changes is that everyone is so busy and the holidays interfere. Getting information to employees in a manner they can absorb and understand is always an ongoing challenge and always will be,” says OMNI’s Tracy.

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