Streamlining the Open Enrollment Process

By Art Brooks April 2, 2009

How can HR make sure its next open enrollment is as headache-free as possible? Timing and technology can be key. First and foremost, start planning—now.

Start Early

It’s almost never too early to start planning when it comes to open enrollment. Many HR managers find success in reviewing their company’s employee benefits early in the current year, for the coming year. The decision-making process regarding whether to stay with the current benefit package or go with something new should be ongoing.

Assess Changing Needs

There are many factors that make up the decision to stay with the old or to go with the new, chief among them being costs and employee profile changes. Questions to consider include:

  • Is there a need to decrease costs?
  • Should we instead offer a richer benefit package to be competitive in hiring and keeping good employees?
  • Are the needs of our employees changing because of shifting demographics?
  • Is our employee population increasingly made up of older or younger employees, single or married employees, or are there other factors that might alter their benefits needs?

Being able to access, understand and define current benefit information is key for HR managers. Having systems in place to capture enrollment data is helpful in answering such questions as how many employees are opting for high-deductible health plans vs. traditional higher premium/lower deductible options. Answer such questions can help determine whether an organization is meeting the needs of its workforce adequately.

Develop a Plan of Attack

After HR has pulled together and assessed data on employees and dependents, the next step is seeking competitive bids for employee benefits. Many managers find that six months in advance is not too early to begin surveying the market, allowing:

  • 90 days to gather quotes from insurance carriers and other benefit providers.
  • 90 days to review and implement any plan changes.

With an initial 90 days previously allotted to capturing and analyzing employee and dependent demographic data, that leaves only about a 90-day period during the year when HR has a respite from being involved in some part of planning for the next open enrollment—a never-ending cycle of reviewing, analyzing and planning.

Prepare a Communications Campaign

Having a system to inform employees about changes to their benefit options in advance of open enrollment is vital, whether it be via e-mail, intranet, podcast, twitter or even old-fashioned employee memos.

Each employee needs to have a complete packet of information and enrollment forms from each plan--health insurance, dental, life, disability, vision and the like. Many companies are moving from paper-based open enrollment to performing almost all aspects through an automated process.

HR might want to take inventory in advance to ensure that its insurance brokers and benefit provider representatives are on hand to explain plan options and to answer questions from employees. Many HR managers note greater success when plenty of advanced notice is given to employees regarding benefits enrollment meetings.

Smart Use of Technology

Early in the year, automated open enrollment systems can slice and dice employee data to analyze patterns and make projections of needs. Later, fulfillment can be simplified by making information available online. Automated systems can be used to verify that employees have completed necessary changes and to transmit enrollment data electronically to carriers through secure electronic connections. HR can use technology to set up alerts throughout the year, with reminders of when updates need to be made.

With all of the details required in the open enrollment process, it can easily become a headache-prone project. Well-planned processes and smart technology can help ease the pain for HR and everyone involved.

Art Brooks is vice president of sales for BeneTrac, a Paychex company and provider of web-based electronic enrollment and employee benefits administration software.


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