Progress toward open enrollment readiness hits a standstill

It looks as if some employers might have let the lazy days of summer get to them, as progress toward open enrollment readiness has hit a standstill.

Overall readiness for employers with 2019 Q1 start dates stood at a score of 39 for the second straight month (June and July), according to the latest data collected by Employee Benefit Adviser in its monthly Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark survey. The OERB tracks 26 open enrollment activities and asks employers to submit self-assessments of the progress they have made in each.

Of course, the laid-back summer attitude might not be the cause of the inactivity for all employers. Indeed, one human resources professional from the high-tech industry said that “busy schedules” make it “tough to find time to focus on employee benefits.” Another survey participant commiserated by pointing out that “we have just one HR employee on a part-time basis to handle all human resources activities and payroll.”

Regardless of what caused the inactivity, though, employers must now start to shift into high gear to prepare for impending open enrollment periods.

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

“Employers have got less than two months before open enrollment periods kick off, which is not much time. Advisers need to work with employers to make sure that they have a cohesive game plan that human resources and the CFO buy into. They have to be very proactive and stay on top of it,” says Jack Kwicien, a managing partner at Daymark Advisors, a Baltimore-based consultancy that works with benefit advisers to build their practices.

Particularly concerning is the lack of progress being made in the area of open enrollment management, which received a score of just 28 in the July OERB survey.

With open enrollment around the corner, employers are trailing behind with respect to their readiness to enroll employees (score of 23). They also are behind when it comes to their readiness to answer employee questions (27), document worker feedback (20), measure enrollment engagement metrics (20), and boost enrollment engagements (26).

The fact that many employers are spending “hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars” on benefits and “don’t have their act together as to how to get employees enrolled in plans” should spur concern and ultimately action, Kwicien points out. Advisers need to cajole employers to establish enrollment processes and to start enrolling employees.

More specifically, advisers can help out by telling employers that they are “behind where they should be at this specific point in time, but they still have time to take corrective measures,” Kwicien says.

From there, advisers can work with employers to lay out a streamlined plan that includes a few action steps that senior management can easily commit to. “It’s important to get company leaders to promise that they will be proactive and take these recommended action steps,” Kwicien points out.

One of the action steps could be to put together “a simple question and answer sheet on the five most frequently asked questions from last year and make sure that every employee gets this document either as a handout or an e-mail,” Kwicien says.

If employers don’t take such proactive steps, they will “get half way through the open enrollment 30-day period and will have three-quarters of the employees who still have not completed their enrollment forms for their online enrollment. And then human resources will start getting bombarded with questions that should have been anticipated,” Kwicien says.

In addition, advisers can help employers with overall open enrollment communication activities, as this seems to be a pressing concern for many. In fact, several human resources professionals who participated in the survey cited communication as a top challenge, with individual respondents pointing to the need to communicate “new rates to employees,” “our wellbeing strategy (health and financial)” and “the required activities to obtain preferred pricing in our wellness plan.”