With open enrollment around the corner, many employers still not prepared

Ready or not, here comes open enrollment. And while companies are moving toward open enrollment readiness, there are still many that are finding themselves in the “not” category.

Indeed, the overall open enrollment readiness score for employers with 2019 Q1 start dates came in at just 55 in September, according to the latest data collected by Employee Benefit Adviser in its monthly Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark (OERB) survey. While this score represents a 7-point improvement over August, many employers are still struggling to get their open enrollment acts together. To arrive at the scores, the OERB tracks 26 open enrollment activities and asks employers to submit self-assessments of the progress they have made in each.

Some employers have still not completed tasks that theoretically should have been checked off the “to-do” list months ago. Particularly troubling is the fact that the scores for benefit plan design and open enrollment preparation came in at just 80 and 59, respectively. More specifically, about half of all study participants do not deem their organizations as ready when it comes to planning and designing employee communications, reviewing compliance and eligibility issues, setting goals, and documenting processes and procedures.

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

“Fundamentally, these results should not be any surprise because when you look at the trend line for the last several months, everyone was saying they were getting ready to get prepared, but no one was preparing,” said Jack Kwicien, managing partner at Daymark Advisors, a Baltimore-based consultancy that works with benefit advisers to build their practices. “That means that many companies have not yet worked through how they are going to communicate their benefits and what their enrollment options are going to be. At this point they should have answers to all kinds of questions: Are we going to be doing group meetings? Are the meetings going to be mandatory or voluntary? Will we have one-on-one sessions with benefits counselors? Will these sessions be supported electronically? All of these things should have been decided already.”

Not surprisingly, many of the individual study participants noted that their current top challenge centers on tying up the remaining loose ends and finalizing benefit offerings as they “finalize decisions on employer contributions” and “finalize all outstanding components.”

Managing the open enrollment process is, of course, a pressing concern for employers as well at this point in the cycle. The overall score for open enrollment management was just 45 – meaning that a significant number of employers are not as far along as they should be. While companies earned relatively high marks for managing meetings with advisers/brokers (77), they appear to be behind the curve when it comes to enrolling employees (43), answering employee questions (50), documenting worker feedback (33), measuring enrollment engagement metrics (28) and boosting enrollment engagement (40).

It’s especially important to ensure that employees truly understand their benefit options. As such, individual survey participants noted that they are working on “educating staff on high deductible plans,” “educating the newest of our employee population,” and “educating regarding plan design.”

Such education is vitally important, if employers want to get buy-in to their benefits initiatives. “Even if employers are not offering the ideal benefits package, if employees understand the benefits that are available to them and how to fully take advantage of them, they will feel good about their employers,” Kwicien pointed out. “Unfortunately, some employers spend millions of dollars on benefits packages and then dropped the ball and don’t communicate with employees. They come into the enrollment period virtually unprepared and then their employees don’t even appreciate all the money that is being spent on them.”