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3 Open Enrollment Reminders for Employees—and HR

Pointers to pass along as open enrollment gets underway

A business woman standing in front of a wall of sticky notes.

At many organizations, the open enrollment season for 2020 employer-sponsored benefits is under way or about to begin. As HR representatives address open enrollment meetings, speak with employees one-on-one and send out enrollment reminders, they can use these pointers to help employees make smart decisions.

1. Don't 'Set It and Forget It'

While just keeping whatever health coverage they had this year is tempting for employees, doing so may come with a substantial financial downside. The 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is urging employees to carefully review their family's financial situation and insurance options to pick the best coverage plan for their household.

HR reps, the AICPA advised, could share this message with employees:

"By just staying the course without reviewing all the options available, you could be missing crucial opportunities to save—or worse, choose a plan that doesn't properly cover your family's health care needs. If you miss the open enrollment period, you won't be able to enroll in a plan unless you have a qualifying event (such as getting married, having a baby or losing employer-sponsored coverage). So, if you find yourself surprised by a premium increase come January, you won't be able to change coverage."

"Americans tend to miss the mark when they stick with what they were doing before without double-checking their assumptions," said Kelley Long, a member of the AICPA Consumer Financial Education Advocates panel. "There are many factors, both in a benefits plan and in one's personal life, that can change every year. By 'setting and forgetting' a benefit plan, you not only run the risk of getting stuck in one that isn't right for you, but also one that costs you extra."

2. Make Sure You're Getting the Best Deal

Jaleigh White, a member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission, noted that "even though the volume of an open-enrollment benefits package can seem overwhelming, employees would benefit from taking 30 minutes, at least, to read through all materials and explore the impact of any changes the company is making to their benefits, and carefully consider any changes to their personal situation that could impact their elections for the coming year."

She encourages employees to ask themselves the following questions to be sure they are making the best choices for themselves and their families during the year ahead:

  • Are there any changes in my life that might make another health insurance choice more valuable this year?
  • Do I anticipate any new expenses next year that might change my current elections?
  • Did I pay out-of-pocket expenses this year that could be covered by an insurance option next year?
  • Has my employer made changes to its current benefits plan?
  • Are there changes I can make to my budget that would allow me to increase tax-deferred savings through a flexible spending account or a health savings account?

A suggested message is:

"If you answered 'yes' or you're not sure about the answers to these questions— now is the perfect time to revisit your benefits. Use this opportunity to set your finances up for your best 2020."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Organizational Communication]

3. Encourage Open Enrollment Dialogue

Sushma Tripathi, vice president of strategic advisory services at ADP, an HR management software and services provider, offered the following starter questions HR can ask to engage employees during open enrollment.

  • What questions do you have?
    "Information should be clear, concise and thoughtful so employees are comfortable making choices that best suit their needs," Tripathi advised.

  • How can I make this information more digestible for you?
    Employees learn in different ways and may prefer benefits information to be delivered in a certain format, "so mix it up," Tripathi advised. "Use social media, including blog posts, podcasts, texts and mobile apps." Communicating big changes may require more interaction such as manager meetings, employee meetings, benefits fairs and ask-the-expert calls, "all of which will help empower employees to make stronger decisions," she noted.

  • How can I help you customize offerings to fit your needs?
    "Work with employees on creating a plan that makes the most sense to them," Tripathi said. Consider whether they have any special requirements. Point to voluntary benefits that can address their particular needs, such as extra life insurance, legal services coverage or pet insurance.

Reminders for HR

Karen Frost, health strategy and solutions leader at Alight Solutions, a benefit administration company, offered these pointers to HR benefit managers for open enrollment and throughout the year:

  • Optimize plan designs. Review the makeup of your workforce as well as your employees' ability to pay large high-deductible health plan (HDHP) deductibles. While the vast majority of participants already pair HDHPs with health savings accounts (HSAs), stress their importance and provide education on how to properly use them—for instance, by contributing to the account and spending those dollars wisely, and, if possible, taking unspent HSA balances into retirement.
  • Make benefits personal. Once benefit basics are covered, the challenge lies in connecting people to the right mix of programs to meet their individual needs. More employers are using tools such as digital apps and online portals with built-in decision support to help employees optimize their benefits. Also, health navigation services can provide employees with personalized help with care management year-round, resulting in cost savings.

Related SHRM Articles:

Employers Enhance Emotional and Mental Health Benefits for 2020, SHRM Online, October 2019

Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference, SHRM Online, September 2019

10 Questions for Employees Choosing a Health Plan, SHRM Online, September 2016

Related SHRM Resource:

SHRM Open Enrollment Guide & Resources


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