In the thick of open enrollment season, savvy employers and benefit advisers have eased the onslaught of information with complex benefit jargon by spreading out employee sign-up before the mad fall rush. Employee Benefit Adviser spoke with Jeffrey Faber, HUB International Midwest’s chief operating officer, to discuss how employers are urging employees to save with data transparency tools, use interactive services to learn about new benefits and to sign up for identity protection.
EBA: How is open enrollment going for you and your clients?
Faber: We’re in the middle of open enrollment season and we are trying to lock down the last-minute decisions our clients have. Predominantly our business is a renewal business.
Our large groups have made their decisions already but our smaller groups are just finding out what their renewals are from the major medical carriers. We have our hands full trying to make sense of it all. But open enrollment is the focus. This is absolutely our busiest time of year. From mid-August to Halloween, and even mid-November, it seems to be getting longer and longer every year with all the nuances our clients require.
EBA: How does this enrollment season differ from previous years? Is there confusion over the ACA’s status? Is there a greater emphasis on voluntary benefits?
Faber: On the repeal of Obamacare, a lot of those decisions have been made too late for our employers to really have to pivot and they are unaffected largely by the executive orders and the talk from Congress. Of course, there's the specter that Congress will act and make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but that impact would probably be a 2019 event instead of a 2018 event.
On the voluntary benefits side, our clients are asking for financial and holistic tools to meet the employees where they live in regard to student loans, tuition assistance and debt consolidation services. ID theft has been a big conversation point in the last three or four months and has been heightened by the Equifax breach, but it started three years ago with the Target breach. A lot of employers want to understand their role in their employee’s lives,
And for voluntary benefits, most of our customers are moving to the consumer-driven model with higher deductibles, so accident insurance, critical injury insurance, and hospitalization – those are all nice bolt-on benefits for the medical benefits they have. It almost allows the employee to self-insure their own health. And HSAs and HRAs are still popular. We see a large uptick year over year over year.
EBA: Any other trends for this year’s open enrollment?
Faber: A few years ago, we joked that overall enrollment was the HR Super Bowl. It happened once a year, it was a three hour event with a bunch of commercials and no one really talked about it a week or two later.
Our clients have asked, what can we do the other 11 months a year? We have seen an increase in requests for interactive PDFs, on-demand video, and interactive guides directing folks to microsites or apps on their phone. We introduce these in April, May or June and if the employee needs this, they don't have to go back into their memory bank and access it, they can get it online. It is that year round learning that engages the customer.
EBA: Is this because employees are bombarded with information during open enrollment?
Faber: Yes and no. There is a lot of information that is required and that is distributed this time of year and there are a lot of decision points that they have to make for themselves and the benefit of their families. We put in place decision helping tools like Jellyvision’s ALEX and some other proprietary tools, that can help employees better make decisions.
But I think it is more toward trying to be a circuit breaker in an employee's head when they are accessing healthcare. That makes them stop and check, “Is this in network, do I have to get pre-authorization? How do I check for a lower cost across the street from a benefit provider?”
These things come out of the workshops this time of year, but if you are not hitting employees where they live at the time of use, you are missing those opportunities for significant cost savings. And not on just on the employer side but the employee side especially with high-deductible plans.
EBA: Is data transparency a big push for this open enrollment season?
Faber: Yes, especially when you consider that standalone imaging facilities are three to eight times less expensive than an in-house hospital facility. Employees need to understand that they will pay 100% of that cost until they meet that deductible in that consumer-driven plan, so there is every effort being made to make sure the employee is checking those transparency tools.
At open enrolment time, we make every effort to employees in the room to ID the nearest urgent care and ER facility, to write those down on a note card and put it in the visor of their car. So, they know at the moment of crisis to know where those places are and make decisions ahead of time.
EBA: Accountants say that from January to April 15, they don't see their families. Is it the same for you during open enrollment?
Faber: (Laughs) I grew up in an accounting family and I can attest to that. It is all hands on deck but our goal is to help clients get their decisions out of the way in Q1 and Q2. We try to help them with decisions that don't require immediacy and don’t have to be made right away, like life and disability insurance, and voluntary and wellness benefits. You can make a lot of those decisions in April, May and June.
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