Employers are nearly finished designing benefit plans as open enrollment season gets underway. But they continue to struggle with setting up communication campaigns that explain plan changes and cost-sharing arrangements prompted by stiff increases in the price of healthcare coverage.

Overall, employer readiness for open enrollment increased for the fourth month in a row among organizations with benefit start dates in the first quarter, according to Employee Benefit Adviser’s Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark. The composite OERB score — an average of progress self-assessments by employers for 26 open enrollment activities across four open enrollment stages — gained three points in September, reaching 52.

The average score for the first phase, the benefit plan design phase, reached 79. Scores in the open enrollment management phase averaged 36, while the average score for enrollment analysis and follow-up was 40. Scores range from zero, for no progress, to 100, for completed.

Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark
Overall Readiness
Phase
Activity
Readiness
Progress
Phase Readiness

Phase 1

Benefit Plan Design

Phase 1

Benefit Plan Design

Phase 2

Open Enrollment Preparation

Phase 2

Open Enrollment Preparation

Phase 3

Open Enrollment Management

Phase 3

Open Enrollment Management

Phase 4

Open Enrollment Design Analysis & Follow-Up

Phase 4

Open Enrollment Design Analysis & Follow-Up

Scores for the open enrollment preparation phase averaged 54, up eight points from the previous month. All the individual activities in this stage increased six to nine points. But the prep phase average was weighed down by a score of 39 for planning and designing employee communications. Employee communications are a chronic problem in the benefits world. Employers are grappling with explaining coverage and cost-sharing changes necessitated by late-arriving and often unex­pectedly high price quotes from insurers — signaling a profound need for support from advisers.

The Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark is a composite score (out of 100) of employer readiness for open enrollment activities across the four critical stages of the open enrollment process: benefit plan design, preparation, process management, and program analysis and updates. The OERB is based on SourceMedia Research’s quantitative survey of more than 400 pre-screened HR and benefit executives and decision makers representing employers with greater than 50 employees from various industry sectors. For more details on the OERB, click here.