There Really Are Five Seasons in a Business Year

Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. Open Enrollment. One of them is nearly here.

By Rachel Arnett

That would be open enrollment season, which brings the most questions for employers and employees alike. Sure, options and choices are good, but they can cause consternation for even the most informed employee. Aside from worrying about their own health and that of their loved ones, employees today are struggling with choices as they relate to work options, school for their kids and much more. Employees have never been more concerned. And they worry about their health coverage.

To remove any angst or anxiety from the process, especially this year, CLARITY is critical as we roll into 2021.

Communicate early and often. Consider planning for Open Enrollment a few weeks earlier than normal. In this rapidly changing environment, information is even more critical. People are asking for new ways to access health care and interact with their providers. Is your staff using digital health tools and virtual-care benefits? If not, assess your current carrier capabilities and push for solutions that work for your employees.

Learn what’s happening in the market. Attend available webinars. Visit with your con-sultant and your peers, as well as other employers. By taking this step, you will find out the creative solutions others plan to use during this unique open enrollment process. As you gather information, think about how needs have shifted from previous years, especially in dealing with COVID-19 and the unusual circumstances the pandemic has created. Consider the following from an employer standpoint: How will you conduct meetings—in person, virtual or both? For virtual, be sure employees have the resources/capability to participate. In-clude reliable logins, passwords, and details so that technology is a help, not a hindrance, to effective communication. Allow time for questions. While virtual can create challenges with conversation, be purposeful, encourage the audience to speak up. Don’t rush the process; give employees time to ask questions and make informed decisions. Partner with your carrier. Some carriers will work in unison with the employer and broker to conduct open-enrollment meetings.

Address concerns head on. The stress that has come along with this pandemic is still incalculable, so focusing on behavioral-health issues now can result in happier, more well-adjusted employees. Start the conversation with employees, provide communication and resources proactively. Even the strongest among us have been impacted by the daily uncertainties and issues this pandemic has brought. Employee mental health, and programs that make it easy to connect with health professionals, need to be a top priority. Provide meaningful resources to support the health and productivity of your employees.

Now is the time to help align your benefits programs, communications and offerings with your budget to meet your employees’ needs.

React quickly to potential new ways to assist. Consider going paperless and using a digital plat-form (Benefit Administration systems) for enrollment. This helps employees more quickly and conveniently make selections, whether on-site or working remotely. Of course, you may need to increase your cybersecurity protocols with new digital processes, but the payoff will be worth it.

Information Must Be Updated to Fit the Times. Information from your health-care insurance partner should come in many forms, including face to face, Web-based self-learning, one-on-one training, virtual expert led, video and more. Add information on the importance of well-being, going beyond the physical fitness wellness programs. Consider offering financial wellness programs (e.g. budgeting, managing debt, etc.) since financial stress ranks high among all stresses. Finding opportunities to meet employees where they are is key.

Take time to communicate in ways that are effective in this environment. Offer virtual-meeting options for all employees. Consult with your broker and ensure there is a series of virtual-meeting options and one-on-one opportunities (depending on employer size) in which benefits, rates and other pertinent information is provided to employees. Create a one-stop resource portal, similar to your company intranet, to place all material related to Open Enrollment. This allows employees to view at their leisure, perhaps share with the person in their household who helps with Open Enrollment decisions. Making communication as natural, clear and convenient as possible will help reduce the stress often associated with open enrollment and benefits selection.

You are not alone. Consult with your broker and your health plan to ensure your programs, communications and offerings are aligned with your budget and employees’ needs. Working together en-sures the best end product for employees. It may never be their favorite season, but your employees will appreciate clarity when it comes to open enrollment season.

About the author

Rachel Arnett is senior vice president of sales for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.
P | 816.360.1098
E | Rarnett@bluekc.com