Open enrollment has been an annual headache for employers, even before the presence of the Affordable Care Act and the numerous plan changes towards more employee consumerism that followed. But next year, the health care law’s employer mandate becomes a reality for many. Lisa Marie Monnig, program director of claims and benefits at Accolade, a consumer engagement healthcare company, explains how employers can ensure that open enrollment is a smooth process for everyone involved.

Do plans of attack and engagement efforts change with each plan type? 

They should, but often don’t. All medical plans are not created equal. For example, many people understand a preferred provider organization but do not understand a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account. HSA plans are very difficult to explain in the written word because they are complex and employees tune out after a few paragraphs. However, plans are much easier to explain verbally. Offering a webinar or live presentation dedicated to just this type of plan would certainly help bridge the HSA learning gap and should increase engagement.

See also: Employers hungry for improved enrollment, communications tools

What is the overall goal of open enrollment, and has that changed in this post-ACA environment? 

The overall goal has always been the same – it’s the time of year to evaluate how benefits are working for the individual and their family. At Accolade, our Health Assistants take the time to form lasting relationships with the clients they serve by building trust and learning more about a person’s motivators and barriers to seeking care. For example, “did you get married or have a baby? Did yours or your spouse’s medical plan options change or increase in cost? Did your medical needs change?” The answers to these questions impact an individual’s open enrollment selections and will shape how they view their benefits and if they need to change, elect or drop coverage. In a post-Affordable Care Act environment, it’s more important than ever to understand all of the options. 

See also: 6 open enrollment trends to watch

What efforts can employers consider to engage more employees during this crucial enrollment period? 

Communication is critical. Communicate early and often and through multiple channels (for example, e-mail, intranet postings, team meetings, home mailings, live and recorded webinars, live presentations, etc.).

Does having multiple kinds of health plan options (HMO, HDHP, PPO, etc.), or multiple relationships such as an ACO, help or hurt employers during enrollment?  

Medical insurance is confusing enough for most people, so the more plans the employer offers the more confused employees can become during open enrollment. However, offering a choice between a HMO, PPO, HDHP, etc. is important. These three types of plans offer meaningful choices, whereas offering four different PPO options does not and employees are likely to choose the plan with the lowest deductible rather than trying to understand which of those plans truly suits their needs. Explaining the difference between plan options in the written word is challenging, which is why companies like Accolade can play an important role during open enrollment. Benefit departments simply aren’t staffed to provide this level of service to every employee, but we are.

See also: Why everyone needs a benefits enrollment advocate

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