Human Resources and Benefits, COVID-19

Preparing for Open Enrollment Challenges During COVID-19

Open enrollment (the period of time each year when employees can sign up for health insurance or change their plans) during the COVID-19 pandemic will be unlike any other in recent memory. Many organizations are still trying to recover from extended closures and maintain safe working environments—as an employer, open enrollment may be the last thing on your mind. Yet, putting off planning for this event can cause more issues than it solves.

Here’s what you can expect this enrollment period and how to prepare.

Open Enrollment Trends in 2020

Plan for Disruptions

While we don’t know what to expect in the coming months, plan for the possibility of minor to major disruptions to open enrollment. From an operational standpoint, COVID-19 cases could surge in the fall and force states to reclose businesses. From a personnel standpoint, employees may not be comfortable returning if they feel unsafe in the workplace. These are two worst-case scenarios, but they illustrate the variety of potential disruptors that could stem from COVID-19 this enrollment period.

Consider Virtual Open Enrollment

Many organizations will likely hold entirely virtual open enrollments, keeping in line with other precautions they are already taking during this time. Virtual enrollment has been trending for several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic is helping to solidify its prominence. A virtual enrollment process typically includes an online enrollment platform for selecting benefits, remote meetings between employees and HR, and downloadable benefits resources.

Understand the Unique Needs of Your Employees

While virtual enrollment will almost certainly be the new standard, it’s not necessarily the solution for everyone. Employees’ technology skill levels, language barriers, and past expectations will all influence what open enrollment looks like across different organizations. It’s up to you to decide how to pair virtual enrollment solutions with other resources to meet the unique needs of your employees and the organization as a whole.

Offer Supplemental Health Plans

Many employers are meeting these challenges through supplemental health plans with an emphasis on overall well-being. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have been looking for ways to control costs while providing employees with meaningful mental health resources to curb burnout. Adding optional health benefits can be a way to limit additional employer spending and provide assistance to employees who need it.

Action Items for Employers

Preparation will be the key factor for a successful open enrollment this year. Talk with your management and HR team early, and prepare to answer any employee questions. Employees will need to know exactly how they will be enrolling, when enrollment is happening, and where they can find help. Solidifying this information early will help keep everyone on the same page.

Consider reaching out to employees to determine what kind of enrollment process will work best for them. However, it should be clear that these suggestions must fit in with larger workplace operations. For instance, in-person meetings may not be an option.

How You Can Prepare

Open enrollment isn’t always a clear-cut process. What is successful for one organization won’t necessarily work for another. Review the following strategies and consider how similar initiatives might improve your own open enrollment efforts:

  • Confer with management about any operational restrictions that may influence open enrollment (i.e., if in-person staff is limited within the workplace, in-person enrollment is likely not an option).
  • Meet with your enrollment team to solidify what the enrollment process will look like, including whether it will be entirely virtual, in-person with social distancing, or some other combination of strategies.
  • Communicate regularly with employees about the upcoming open enrollment.
  • Inform all stakeholders (anyone to whom an employee may reach out about open enrollment questions) about the enrollment process. They should know where to find the answers to any topic, including:
    • Benefits effective date
    • Enrollment period
    • What happens to furloughed employees’ benefits
    • How plan contributions work during extended closures
  • Communicate to employees about open enrollment through multiple channels. Consider using videos, mail-home postcards, emails, an online enrollment portal, downloadable resources, flyers, and other materials to ensure employees have all the information they need.

While many organizations are finding success with these efforts, they are not the only strategies that work. Talk with your Leavitt Group insurance advisor to discuss an open enrollment process that meets the unique needs of your organization.

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