Happy New Year, everyone! It’s bound to be a good one, especially with last year’s open enrollment hassles officially behind you, right?
Well, not quite.
Sure, you’ve gotten all of the necessary files over to the carrier right in time for your clients’ effective dates. Your clients’ employees have their ID cards in hand and are ready to take advantage of their benefits. A sigh of relief is in order, but the process isn’t done just yet.
“Now is a really great opportunity to be reflective about what just happened and what could be done better for open enrollment next year, No. 1,” says Rob LaHayne, director of brokerage services at the HR tech company Namely. “And then No. 2: Make sure you have all your ducks in a row for the upcoming year.”
Like setting thoughtful New Year’s resolutions, now is a great time to look back on your clients’ processes around employee benefits and ask yourself a few questions, if you haven’t done so already. Did you and the employer client do a good job explaining benefits during open enrollment? How easy was actually enrolling for employer clients and their employees? What about your clients’ processes this year for new hire enrollment, life events and COBRA administration?
Also see: “The 2016 ABCs of employee benefits.”
But don’t stress. Let’s go through it all step-by-step so when mid-January rolls around, you won’t be caught off guard by any surprises. When it comes to employee benefits, make like a New Year gym membership and start your clients’ org off on the right foot.
1) Set up a post-open enrollment meeting with the employer
Kick the quarter off by getting together with the employer and chatting about what went well this past open enrollment (i.e. their easy-to-use open-enrollment technology) and what could have gone better (not as many employees enrolled in the employer’s new high deductible plan as they would have liked).
Debrief on the new plans and benefits offered. For example: What was employee engagement like with new plans versus old ones? How well were the differences between them, and their use cases, communicated? Finally, do a cost analysis of benefits this year versus last year ahead of the employer’s first bill.
Next, poll employees about how the open enrollment process went for them. Did they understand all of the options presented to them? Did they have enough time to enroll? “Start laying the groundwork for an effective employee engagement strategy around benefits for the New Year,” says LaHayne. Half the employee benefits battle is communicating offerings in an understandable, digestible way. See how well your employer client did, and consider making plans this year to revamp the open enrollment guide for employees or offer more online resources.
2) Audit the first bill
Once your employer client has its first carrier bill, you’ll really have something to work with. “Take whatever post-enrollment data file you received from the benefits administration provider and make sure the carrier’s bill is accurate compared to what was submitted.” Take the time to go line item by line item and ensure everything is accounted for.
This is a great task for any HR professional overseeing benefits.
3) Once the initial debriefing is done, set quarterly meetings
“The goal is that [the employer] is always working toward that next renewal,” LaHayne says. “The first quarterly meeting might just be discussing new ideas on wellness strategies or new regulatory information to be aware of. For subsequent quarterly meetings [employers should] do a deeper dive on the claims experience once they’ve begun collecting data from the carrier.”
As for the third quarter, start laying out an open enrollment strategy from a product perspective: tweaks to current planning and any new offerings. “Also, start thinking more and more about what your timeline is going to be for that year’s open enrollment,” LaHayne says. Of course, once Q4 is here, it’s off to the races.
4) Review COBRA, new hire enrollment and life event processes
If an employer has just completed its first open enrollment with a new broker, it’s especially important to review the process for handling employees’ COBRA coverage for temporarily extending employee health care coverage, when a qualifying event comes along like a termination or change in employment status.
Work with employer clients to be sure they understand what needs to be communicated to the carrier, and when. The last thing an employer wants is to be stuck with additional charges in a few months because COBRA is handled incorrectly.
LaHayne also points out the importance of having a solid checklist for new hire enrollment in place. Be sure employees get all of the information they need, preferably in similar detail and fashion to the open enrollment the whole company experiences.
Finally, be sure to remind employees how to communicate life events to HR. “Make sure employees know what the reporting process is for when they get married or have a baby — who to contact and what to expect,” says LaHayne.
5) Remind employees about their new planning at an appropriate time
Lastly, employees may not remember some of their benefit changes when the time comes for them to actually use them. One example: employees newly enrolled in high-deductible health plans. Send a reminder note during the first quarter that their point-of-service payments will be higher, but their payments will go toward the deductible and premiums will be lower. Additionally, as LaHayne points out, remind employees of their new benefit selections before the first pay cycle includes new payroll deductions. Then, you may avoid a flurry of emails wondering why pay amounts have changed.
“There’s so much work that goes into preparing for open enrollment and a communication strategy for employees,” LaHayne says. “Just don’t forget the important step of debriefing afterward.”
With a sound strategy in place and all your bases covered, you and your employer clients will be ready to ring in the New Year without dropping the benefits ball.
Mueller is a content writer at Namely, an all-in-one HR, payroll and benefits platform.
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