Benefits & Compensation News

Open enrollment crunch time: 5 things employers need to know

Open enrollment is here, and employers have to get employees up to speed on the benefits options available to them. And because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is making this process so complex, Harry Gottlieb, a champion for simple, engaging employee communication, has assembled five things employers need to be aware of during this year’s open enrollment.

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They are:

1. Employees face an open enrollment double feature

There’s just no getting around it. This year you’re going to be working with not one, but two open enrollment seasons. Yes, you’ll prepare your own company’s enrollment materials like always, but now you’ll also have to deal with the inaugural enrollment period for the new health insurance marketplaces established under the ACA.

Have you considered the amount of health insurance information employees will have to consume and digest over the next few weeks? Having to sort through the notification of coverage options AND everything your company has to offer benefits-wise is going to be a tough row to hoe.

Even if your workforce isn’t likely to get coverage from the marketplaces, employees are going to have ACA-related questions, and they’ll be looking to you for answers because …

2. Employees expect you to explain how the ACA affects them

Simply providing a perfunctory overview of healthcare reform with a bare-bones notification of coverage options is something you do at your own peril — because employees will be relying on you for ACA guidance, education and support.

In fact, Aflac’s 2013 Workforces Report shows that 60% of employees haven’t even tried to learn about health reform on their own, so your notification of coverage options or other ACA education efforts could be the first solid bit of information they receive on the law. You can get ahead of the game by providing quality information about the ACA, or just get flooded with calls, emails and pop-in visits when employees inevitably get confused.

Also, a good majority of the nation’s employees (75%, according to the Aflac report) expect their employers to help inform them about the ways their healthcare coverage will change as a result of healthcare reform. This is important because …

3. Choosing health benefits stresses employees out

Healthcare reform–related anxieties won’t be the only things troubling employees this enrollment season. They’ll also face an enormous amount of stress when making their traditional benefits selections.

Choosing healthcare benefits is among the hardest things employees ever have to do in their personal lives. According to Aenta’s 2012 Empowered Health Index Survey, the task ranks above other life decisions (such as making major purchases, choosing medical treatments, and even parenting children) in terms of difficulty.

Gumming up the works is a nasty tangle of confusing information, difficult language and costly repercussions for making the wrong decisions. Of course, because employees have a hard time with confusing and complicated benefits information, it shouldn’t be any wonder that …

4. If left to their own devices, veteran workers will approach open enrollment on autopilot

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Consider, for example, the tendency for veteran employees to make the same benefits enrollment selections they always do because they think the information about their plans they acquired in the past still applies today.

Sure, these employees may have once read through everything, carefully considered their options, and made informed decisions about their benefits selections, but how good is that information now? Personal needs evolve. Plan designs change. New rules and regulations affect the way even familiar plans function.

And that just covers medical! Open enrollment is a time for employees to take advantage of ALL of your company’s various offerings, but that might be impossible this year because …

5. Concerns about medical will dominate the benefits discussion

Yes, medical always seems to be the biggest thing on employees’ minds at open enrollment time, but new questions and concerns about the effects of healthcare reform will make that doubly true this year.

If you’re not careful about making time to highlight your company’s other benefit offerings — life insurance, disability insurance, flexible spending accounts and retirement savings plans, just to name a few — medical could dominate employees’ open enrollment consciousness and prevent them from taking advantage of your company’s full range of options.

Harry Gottlieb is the founder of The Jellyvision Lab, the maker of ALEX, a virtual benefits counselor designed to take the mystery out of complicated plan details so employees can make informed benefits selections during open enrollment.

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