Clients ramp up open enrollment readiness

The overall open enrollment readiness score for employers with 2019 Q1 start dates increased significantly from 48 in November to 63 in December, according to the latest data collected by Employee Benefit Adviser in its monthly Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark (OERB) survey.

While it looks as if many employers shifted into high gear at the 11th hour, the score indicates that a sizable number of employers still are not as far along as they should be at this late stage in the readiness cycle. As such, some employers were feeling quite a bit of pressure as they struggled to get ready for 2019 Q1 start dates, while also trying to get a jump start on next year’s planning.

Indeed, one employer who participated in the survey lamented that “December is the middle month, the time when we are closing out everything from the previous year and preparing for the next year to begin. That can be pretty hectic.” Another survey respondent stated that “December is a challenging month with all things year end going on and holidays and trying to get everything completed.” Still another said that “wrapping everything up and ensuring everything was submitted on time and preparing to analyze our processes for the year” emerged as a significant challenge.

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

Some of this stress could emanate from the fact that many employers don’t give benefits planning the attention it is due throughout the year.

“Indeed, employers need to take a more proactive approach and should recognize the fact that benefits planning is a year-round process, not a one-time event,” said Jack Kwicien, managing partner at Daymark Advisors, a Baltimore-based consultancy that works with benefit advisers to build their practices.

More specifically, employers should continually focus on the “three Cs – cost control, coordination and communication,” Kwicien advised. To start, employers could zero in on “cost control” by making a point of “getting the best plan design that will ultimately help to save money.” Employers also need to “coordinate activities between the carrier and the broker to make sure they are getting the proper service, and the proper forms. It’s important to communicate information back to the carriers to confirm who is eligible for benefits,” Kwicien pointed out. And, perhaps most importantly, employers need to “have a formalized employee communication campaign that starts early in the process and is implemented throughout the entire year,” Kwicien said.

Addressing the “three Cs” at the end of the year is likely to be too little, too late. “All of these things should have been addressed a long time ago. By December it is really late in the game and employers should not be dealing with all of these issues,” Kwicien said.

Unfortunately, though, many employers are still struggling with readiness activities that should have been completed many months ago. For instance, the score for “selecting wellness plans” – a task that should have been addressed during the benefit plan design phase many months ago – was just 63. Similarly, the score for “planning/designing employee communication” – an activity that ideally should be checked off the list during the open enrollment preparation phase – came in at 52. And, finally “measuring enrollment engagement metrics,” an open enrollment management phase activity, received a score of just 56. To arrive at these scores, the OERB tracks 26 open enrollment activities and asks employers to submit self-assessments of the progress they have made in each.