Commentary: With open enrollment season in full swing, now is the time to help employees make informed decisions about their health insurance plans. Healthcare coverage is a significant piece of your employees’ overall financial package. If your plan doesn’t appropriately meet their needs, it can be a source of stress for them throughout the year. Employers can help alleviate this burden by strategically architecting and executing well-defined benefit programs.

Also see:14 ways to avoid benefits burnout.”

A successful benefit program begins with solid communication. Gone are the days of open enrollment consisting solely of employers sending out a memo and employees filling out a form to change their plan selections. Annual open enrollment has morphed into much more. Today, it’s about engaging employees not just to manage their healthcare, but to manage their health. In order for companies to make a meaningful impact, they need to think outside of the box in 2016 and beyond. There are several strategies that employers can implement to help their employees navigate the open-enrollment process with ease. Here are some smart places to start:

Empower but don’t overwhelm

Although choice is important when it comes to purchasing health insurance, too much choice can cause confusion, increasing the risk that your employees will make the wrong decisions for their healthcare needs. For example, individuals often choose the lowest premium plan but fail to set aside the proper funds needed to pay larger out-of-pocket costs when health issues arise. Alternatively, as consumer-driven health plans become more prevalent, some consumers still feel more comfortable with copay plans. Your employees may be leaving money on the table by not considering all plan options and valuing tax-advantaged savings vehicles. Choice is important, but make sure those choices align with the broader goals of the enterprise.

Also see:7 ways to keep your sanity during open enrollment.”

Give employees adequate time and tools to review plan offerings

While most consumers value their employee benefits as much as they do their own salaries, employees seem to have less and less time to spend on making healthcare decisions. Smart consumers will evaluate their previous and expected upcoming healthcare spending, while considering paycheck deductions, out-of-pocket costs and coverage. These consumers will also review options through public exchanges or their spouses’ plans. Successful companies will give employees the tools to do all of this easily, paving the way for more informed decisions.

Tailor communication and embrace technology

Most companies have a workforce spanning several generations. A variety of communication methods should be used to target the appropriate audience, as consumers digest information in different ways. For instance, millennials typically prefer to receive their information through websites, text-based messaging and social media applications. Other generations may still see value in speaking with a person or responding through traditional hard-copy correspondence. New mediums such as short videos, e-blasts, Web-based tools, and smartphone applications, are being used to help all consumers make educated decisions. A successful communication campaign delivers tools and messaging to engage employees wherever and whenever an employee can find the time. Incorporating meaningful technology will not only help employees make better choices, but relieve some of your administrative burdens.

Also see:10 tips for creating impactful benefit communications.”

The next few months are critical as your employees actively think about their health coverage. While open-enrollment season is the designated time for employees to change their health insurance plans, it should not be the only time a company promotes and educates employees about benefits. An ongoing strategic communication campaign will not only help your employees value their benefits, but will also demonstrate how much your company values its employees.

Lesley Grady is senior director at NFP. She is a member of NFP’s senior management team in the Northeast region, where she builds and implements the company’s strategic client deliverables for the region, and is responsible for training and development. In addition, she provides director oversight for several of NFP’s most sophisticated clients.

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