After employers over 50 lives have dealt with the regulatory issues related to the ACA, most of them will still be going through the open enrollment process. Business as usual, although this year there is one important difference: because of the changing landscape and potential impact on their benefits offerings in the future, these groups will be assessing the value of their brokers more closely. With this added scrutiny, it is in your best interest to make this open enrollment season one that they will remember. I hear, all too often, that a change in BOR is the direct result of a poorly managed open enrollment.

From proactive employee communication tools to recommending that employers work closely with their broker, carriers and payroll, industry consultants and experts are all helping to make for smoother open enrollments. In the world of online enrollment, following basic project management fundamentals is essential.

 

Project management 101

Traditional project management focuses on balancing resources, time and money (cost). Complexity, or scope, is an additional element of project management, not always accounted for, that requires equal consideration. This is particularly true when managing open enrollment for a number of employer groups. Because one size does not fit all - each group will have differing levels of complexity depending on the changes each group is considering.

Winston Churchill said, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail." So do the planning and write stuff down. Use project management software or a spreadsheet or whatever tools you have at hand. Generally speaking, email systems are not good tools for managing projects. (For those of you that are interested I have a simple spreadsheet that I am willing to share).

Timing is critical for a successful OE. OE projects are unique projects in that they have a hard deadline: the new plan year. Start early. And remember the ultimate end-users of insurance benefits are the employees and their families. By starting early you can communicate in bite- sized chucks about changes in plans, laws and regulatory updates, and the process.

Build flexibility into your timeline. Allow time for the stragglers who miss the published deadline. Communicate and educate. And if you're using an online system allow time for testing. It is not reasonable or prudent to expect changes made over a weekend for an OE beginning on Monday to be correct.

The scope of OE projects is different for each employer group. The main components addressed during OE include rate changes, plan changes, new plans, pay schedules and carrier changes. Active versus passive OE is also very important. The simplest cases are rate changes only. Complexity increases from there.

Establishing the scope of the project during the planning phase allows for a timeline that can be adapted to scope changes that occur later in the process. When all resources involved understand the scope and timeline early in the process, realistic decisions about changes and meeting the OE date can be made.

In the end, our partners in HR have much to deal with during OE and the old adage "failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" may end up running through people's minds if you don't practice project management 101.

Lamb is VP and group head of the EbixBenergy business unit at insurance software company Ebix Health. Reach him at john.lamb@ebix.com.

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