Overall readiness scores decline as open enrollment periods draw near

With 2019 Q1 open enrollment start dates either here or fast-approaching, some employers are acknowledging that they have been fooling themselves for the past several months — as they now are coming to the realization that they just are not as prepared as they thought they were. Indeed, the overall open enrollment readiness score for employers with 2019 Q1 start dates came in at just 54 in October, a one-point decline from the September score, according to the latest data collected by Employee Benefit Adviser in its monthly Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark survey.

“That’s a correction as employers for the past few months were being overly optimistic when assessing just how prepared they were. Now, they are taking a step back and correcting their self assessments. To me, that is not surprising. Through three-quarters of the year, employers have consistently been overly optimistic about how prepared they are,” says Jack Kwicien, managing partner at Daymark Advisors, a Baltimore-based consultancy that works with benefit advisers to build their practices.

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

In fact, a considerable number of employers reported that they still are struggling to finish tasks that should have been completed months ago. For example, the overall score for benefit plan design readiness was just 73, meaning that many employers still have not yet completed the tasks in this initial readiness phase. 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.

“If you think about it, there are so many tasks that should have been completed in August or September, well before employers get to the actual open enrollment event. The plan design, the communications campaign, the selection of vendors for HSAs and pharma management — all of these things should have been done by now. But if you look at the data on a macro level across all those categories anywhere from 15% to 20% of all employers are still saying that they either have some work to do or they’ve made no progress in that area,” Kwicien says. “We are at the time of year when employers should be communicating about benefit plans and choices with their employees and 15% to 20% of employers don’t even have the plan decisions nailed down.”

While many employers are still struggling with benefit plan design, even more are behind the eight ball when it comes to open enrollment preparation and open enrollment management. Indeed, the overall score for open enrollment preparation came in at 54, while the open enrollment management score was just 50. Employers are having an especially hard time with planning/designing employee communications (48), documenting processes/procedures (48), boosting enrollment engagements (45) and documenting worker feedback (42).

“Looking at these scores, it becomes apparent that a large number of employers are way behind where they should be. When evaluating planning/ designing employee communications, it appears that about half of employers are not ready. That’s pretty alarming at this point in the readiness cycle,” Kwicien says.

Not surprisingly, as employers are embroiled in a game of catch-up, many of the survey participants specifically reported that they are feeling a time crunch pinch. All of the following respondents specifically called out time pressures when talking about their top challenges:

· “Time — we still need to finalize the plan selection and roll it out to staff. We want to make several changes to include more education on the benefits.”
· “We typically roll open enrollment out in September but due to too high renewals, we were forced to shop plans and make carrier changes. The process of shopping and making decisions was time consuming and delayed our process.”
· “I am behind on open enrollment this year. Typically, I like to get the information in employees’ hands by mid-November.”
· “We changed brokers late in the year and it took a while to finalize a contract. We then went out for RFPs for all benefits and are making changes.”
· “Time to prepare.”
· “Time for open enrollment meetings.”
· “Timing and very elevated renewals.”