October 03, 2023
Open enrollment is one of the most consequential times of year in the benefits life cycle, where employers seek to capture the attention of their employees as they consider their benefit options for the year ahead. Open enrollment provides an opportunity for employees to evaluate and confirm that their selected coverage aligns with their needs and the needs of their family. To ensure that employees are engaged and well-informed about the process, employers are leveraging technology, multi-channel communications and hybrid events to lead to better benefits decisions for all involved.
The following recap summarizes some of the key themes shared by employers during the call.
The majority of employers on the call do not require employees to actively enroll in benefits; many, however, are using this period to provide additional benefits education.
While most employers on the call are taking a passive open enrollment approach this year for their major health plans (with the exception of benefits like Flexible Spending Accounts that require annual re-enrollment), almost all encourage employees to review their benefit selections to ensure that their coverage still aligns with current needs and to make any necessary adjustments. Furthermore, this time serves as an avenue for employers to promote other initiatives and offerings, including those focused on financial well-being and education, as well as voluntary benefits like critical illness coverage and identity protection.
Interestingly, some employers making significant health plan changes are still reverting to a passive open enrollment window. In these instances, the employer has clearly communicated what new plans employees will be defaulted into if they don’t actively make coverage selections. This approach ensures that employees don’t lose coverage if they fail to review their benefits materials prior to the start of the new plan year. Even with a passive enrollment, some employers are deploying capabilities within their enrollment platforms to encourage employee interaction with the process. For example, some employees whose medical plans or carriers are changing are required to view their medical coverage before the system allows them to move forward in the enrollment process.
Employers are hosting a variety of open enrollment events, both in-person and virtually, to foster engagement.
Employers are leveraging both in-person and virtual events to maximize the impact of their open enrollment strategy. From health fairs to block parties to webinars, companies are deploying innovative and interactive engagement tactics for a successful open enrollment period. For those hosting virtual events, one employer cited success with a three-part informational video series that walks employees through upcoming changes, followed by an interactive Q&A session. Employers hosting in-person events have implemented a variety of engagement strategies, including holding raffles with small prizes to draw in employees. Other employers task their vendors with adding excitement to the in-person experience; for example, at one event, a vision vendor brought a virtual eyeglass try-on booth to captivate employees and increase foot traffic. Another employer shared that they couple their annual flu vaccination initiative with a charity food drive to weave in an element of social connectedness and foster in-person activity. Not only can creative approaches such as these make annual enrollment events more engaging for attendees, but they make the events more memorable as well.
Employers are leveraging different communication channels, with many pivoting from printed materials to digital formats to capture attention.
As part of their open enrollment communications strategy, several employers noted that they are increasingly shifting from traditional printed benefit guides to digital formats. For instance, one employer recently reintroduced an e-benefits guide hosted on their well-being vendor platform, while many others distribute electronic guides through email. One employer shared that they plan to send a succinct pre-enrollment email with a handful of relevant videos and educational resources that employees can view during the open enrollment window. In addition to detailed benefits guides, some employers also create supplemental, standalone guides that specifically highlight changes and crucial information so employees can quickly grasp what's new and important.
Many employers noted that QR codes have become a valuable tool in their arsenal of communication tools, especially when combined with more traditional materials. These codes, incorporated into home mailers and other materials, make it convenient for employees and their families to access essential information. Other tools employers leverage include internal social channels like Yammer and on-site digital display boards. Additionally, some employers are turning to their vendor partners to create microsites and landing pages specially for employees, which outline important changes and other open enrollment communications.
Beyond open enrollment, some employers are taking a broader look at their benefits communication strategy to ensure that employees are educated throughout the year and to enhance health literacy.
While annual enrollment remains the primary focal point for benefits communication, some employers are increasing their efforts to communicate benefits messaging throughout the year. For example. one employer noted that they preemptively communicate plan changes as early as possible (i.e., in April), and partner with senior leaders to convey change messaging. Employers also shared that they are laying the foundation for health literacy by providing resources that explain basic health insurance terminology and concepts in the months leading up to open enrollment. Moreover, employers use existing communication channels to emphasize the importance of preventive care and encourage employees to establish relationships with primary care providers. Employers also recognize that not all employees speak English as their first language. Therefore, it is crucial to communicate benefits information using plain language with straightforward terminology to ensure adequate understanding among all employee populations. Employers can consider leveraging translation services and providing educational resources in multiple languages.
By incorporating these strategies and utilizing a variety of communication channels, employers are enhancing their open enrollment processes and increasing engagement. Such efforts also aim to enhance employees’ understanding of plan offerings, prompt better decision-making and increase health literacy. Open enrollment presents a clear opportunity for employers to not only convey important information and benefit changes, but to meaningfully empower employees in managing their own health and well-being.