More and more, open enrollment is being conducted online — cloud-based software provider PlanSource recently found that 70% of adults prefer online enrollment. “It’s going electronic, that’s clear,” says Joe Ellis, CBIZ Benefits & Insurance senior vice president. Ellis attributes the surge in online enrollment to the Affordable Care Act as well as affordability of technology.

The challenge for brokers is finding a way to increase lower participation rates historically associated with online enrollment. Having a professional enroller on site who understands the process and can answer questions is essential, Ellis says. “It’s the method of enrolling,” he says, not a paper versus online issue. “It’s whether it’s assisted or not.”

TRUEbenefits principal consultant Grant McDonald agrees, adding that an enroller needs to understand the company’s culture and core benefit offerings. “I don’t think there’s any question that employees value the education and the time,” he says.

Lack of education

A vast majority of employees aren’t receiving that help, according to Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. The company’s recent workplace benefits study found just one in four employees said their company helped them when selecting a plan. And yet, employer-provided benefits are critical for middle-income employees — Guardian found 74% said most of their financial security stems from workplace benefits, and four out of five workers said benefits determine whether or not to take a new job.

Most people don’t understand their benefits until they need to use them, TRUEbenefits’ McDonald says, and better-educated employees make smarter choices. One-on-one counseling is one the most effective education tools, he says, but it is not always possible. For employers with employees spread out across the country, McDonald recommends making a call center available.

The assistance portion of the enrollment process is also benefiting from technology, CBIZ’s Ellis says, citing intuitive software, which uses personal data input by the employee to help them choose the most sensible plan. But people can’t sign up for health care if they don’t know when open enrollment begins — and a shocking number don’t. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, for example, a whopping 89% of uninsured people are unaware that open enrollment on the federally-facilitated health care exchanges begins in November. 

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