First-time benefit buyers: Coaching your workers through open enrollment

For the average 20-somethings, the idea that once they turn 26, they will be dropped from their parent’s health insurance plan and thrown into the employee sponsored insurance pool can be daunting.

So daunting, that many may not know very much about the employer-sponsored health insurance plans offered at their job, experts say.

With open enrollment fast approaching, benefits professionals play a major role in helping young workers select their first health plan. But picking the wrong one can be just as disastrous as selecting no plan at all.

This is a problem that is unique to today’s first-time benefit buyers, says Misty Guinn, director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus. Before the Affordable Care Act young adults typically lost their parents insurance after they graduated college or when they were no longer considered a dependent. Today, young adults facing this dilemma may be working at their first or second job and may have already denied employee-sponsored health insurance, she says.

open enrollment
Maryland Health Connection health insurance marketplace pamphlets sit at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Government-run health insurance exchanges, the cornerstone of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, opened their doors today for sales of subsidized bronze, silver, gold or platinum policies, with correspondingly higher costs. Coverage begins in January and enrollment lasts through March 2014. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“That kind of, I feel, almost, took the worries of benefits and healthcare and insurance off their plate for a few years, because usually that was something right out of college you were having to look at and address,” she says.

So what are some best practices for advisers?

Advisers should understand that many young workers are coming to the table with no knowledge of what an employee-sponsored health plan entails. They may be intimidated by jargon or be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as over explaining, says Peter Marcia, chief executive of YouDecide, a voluntary benefits outsourcing, consulting and technology firm.

“Over communicate, over educate and leverage communication materials for employees,” he says.

Guinn suggests incorporating explanatory elements into the benefit selection process, including examples of scenarios where a certain plan is useful so employees get a better understanding of their real life application, she says. Benefitfocus, for example, incorporates short videos featuring real employees on their benefits platform during open enrollment.

And it doesn’t just stop with open enrollment. Anna Lee, vice-president of talent operations at insurance provider Oscar, says benefit advisers should make it a priority to regularly have representatives available to answer questions. At Oscar, she says, the benefits team holds office hours, with specific times where employees can come and ask questions.

“At any time employees can set up time with us and come to our office hours, ask questions to make sure they really understand the benefits and what’s right for them,” Lee says.

Lee, Guinn and Marcia all agree that the most important part of open enrollment, regardless of the employee’s age, is making sure they select a plan that fits their lifestyle. Benefits, they say, are not one size fits all.

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