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An Open Enrollment 'Look Back' Captures What You've Learned

Detailing what went right and wrong can make the next go-round easier

A group of people sitting around a table in a conference room.

As 2019 ended, HR wrapped up another open enrollment season at most organizations. Before moving on, however, standing back and reviewing what went smoothly and what tripped you up can ensure an easier, more effective process when next fall rolls around.

"As tempting as it might be to put open enrollment behind you, don't miss out on taking a good look at what went well and what could have gone better," advised Jennifer Benz, communications leader at HR and benefits communications firm Segal Benz in San Francisco. "That way, you can build on your successes, find solutions for any glitches that arose, and tee-up an even more successful enrollment" next time.

"It shouldn't be 'one and done,' " said Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at DirectPath, a benefits education, enrollment and health care transparency firm based in Burlington, Mass. "Once enrollment ends, start planning for the next year."

Analyze Benefits Data

"Assemble a post-open-enrollment report detailing hard data, accomplishments and ways to improve for the following year," advised Eamonn Brady, senior vice president for enterprise solutions at Winston Benefits, a benefits administration, enrollment and communications company in New York City.

Abby Brolley, manager of the benefits navigator program at Benefitfocus, a cloud-based benefits management platform firm based in Charleston, S.C., and Misty Guinn, the firm's director of benefits and wellness, noted that benefits data collected during open enrollment and from benefit plan administrators at year-end can be segmented by employee demographics (age, income, ethnic groups) to reveal if some workforce segments struggled with understanding and selecting appropriate benefits more than others. Data can include:

  • Plan enrollments.
  • Coverage tiers (e.g., single, plus spouse, plus spouse and dependents).
  • Claims submitted.
  • Deductibles met.
  • Preventive care visits.
  • Emergency room visits.
  • Call center questions.
  • Average health savings account and flexible spending account contributions.

While this information may be easier for self-insured employers to access, fully insured employers can press their insurance provider and broker for more data, as well.

[SHRM's Broker Finder can help you find and hire the right employee benefits broker for your company.]

"It's critical to examine the trends in your hard data," Brady noted. "For example, if you see that half of your employees have migrated from one medical plan to another, there's a reason for it. You can connect the dots to figure out why, which will inform your decisions going into next year's open enrollment."

Dig down into "what percentage of employees made changes to their elections if enrollment was optional—or even opened their enrollment materials," Buckey suggested. "Did you see the enrollment distribution you anticipated? If you introduced new plans—whether standard or voluntary—did you see an uptake in those plans? If not, you'll want to drill down into the why. Lack of engagement may mean employees are completely satisfied with their options or point to bigger issues, such as dissatisfaction with their choices, analysis paralysis or lack of understanding."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Leveraging the Value of Employee Self-Service Portals]

Solicit Feedback

"Employee feedback is a 'secret weapon' in crafting benefits strategy and can challenge your assumptions about what employees are really looking for in their benefits package," Guinn said.

Feedback can be collected from a combination of focus groups, quick polls and comprehensive surveys. Benefitfocus provides a free Benefits and Wellness Survey template.

"You won't know for sure what worked for your employees—and what didn't—until you ask them," Brady said. "Your employees' thoughts and opinions are your greatest asset in interpreting data and preparing for next year's open enrollment."

He added, "Any reactions your employees have this year, whether positive or negative, can be leveraged to create a better employee experience in future open enrollments."

For voluntary benefits, "it's worth asking how well previous plans have been received," Buckey suggested. "For example, if you introduced a health care price-transparency program or a chronic condition management program during 2019, what was your utilization like? Did you achieve your target? Why or why not? Were employees unaware of the program, or did they not appreciate or understand how using the program could result in better health and financial outcomes? Or did they just not care? The answers to all of these questions can, and should, drive your communications efforts for the year ahead and inform your plan design decisions for 2021."

Review Your Communications

"Look back at open enrollment communications and events as you chart out your benefits strategy for the coming year," Brolley advised. "Use employee feedback and benefits data to design a Benefits 101 educational program that can lead up to the next open enrollment season."

Buckey recommended, "Evaluate employee perceptions of the success of your open enrollment communications efforts, as points of confusion during enrollment could remain a problem once employees begin to use the plans they've elected."

Segal Benz offers an Open Enrollment Campaign Debrief Worksheet to help evaluate and record what went well and what could be improved next year. The worksheet, for instance, can be used to measure the success of communications efforts by recording data such as:

  • Web traffic to open enrollment platforms and benefit information sites.
  • E-mail click-through and open rates of open enrollment messages.
  • Meeting attendance (in person or online).
  • Communication survey results.
  • Focus group responses.

The worksheet can also be used to record changes in benefit plan enrollment numbers, which will be helpful when evaluating future changes in benefit designs and offerings.

Apply What You've Learned

"Plan to have a chat with your vendors and broker," Brady recommended. "These conversations should happen in late January, after employees have received their first paychecks reflecting their new plans. If there have been any misunderstandings, you'll find out then."

Follow this up by holding roundtable discussions with internal stakeholders and company leaders "to ensure that your organization embeds what you've learned and converts it into a strategic plan to improve" the open enrollment experience.

After all, next autumn isn't so very far away.

[SHRM Open Enrollment Guide & Resources]


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