How to Streamline Open Enrollment

The ultimate introduction to group health insurance enrollment: what it is, how to handle it and how to reduce open enrollment stress and streamline the employee benefits enrollment processes.

How to Streamline Open Enrollment

What is Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment is a period of time when employers and carriers allow employees to change their insurance elections.

What does this mean for brokers? A lot of work. Because open enrollment restricts the time frame during which people can sign up for health insurance for the following year (with the exception of qualifying events), you’ll be handling all the questions, policy changes and increases for all of your groups and all of their lives, all at the same time.

Traditionally, open enrollment is inefficient. First there are the endless forms for employees to fill out…

Then the employer has to scan or fax the forms to you, so you can review them. Whoops, there’s an error, so it’s back to the employee for corrections.

Then to payroll, where you’ll be using spreadsheets and forms and correspondence with your client to find the right amount to be deducted from an employee’s paycheck. 

Finally, you alert the carriers through a variety of platforms—mail, faxes, email, web forms—depending on the company.

But of course, that isn’t the end. Next comes the record maintenance. Each and every time there’s a change, you’re back in the middle of the paperwork.

The result of all of this inefficiency is perpetual help and support from your agency. It’s frustrating for you and frustrating for your clients.

If you’re a broker who has been through open enrollment season before, you know that it can be an incredibly busy and stressful time, which is why we’ve created this guide. Not only will we help you survive the pitfalls of open enrollment, but we’ll give you actionable tips and strategies to ensure a successful open enrollment season.

How to Ensure Open Enrollment Success

BerniePortal was born out of a brokerage, so we’re very familiar with how difficult open enrollment can be. Many, many rounds of paperwork, strict deadlines and seemingly never-ending client support. It’s a lot for a broker, and we want to make sure you get through open enrollment successfully, and with as little stress and pain as possible, so we’re sharing our wealth of knowledge (gained from experiencing more than a few open enrollments) with you now.

Prepare early

If you haven’t already started preparing for open enrollment, don’t wait any longer. While this time of year is always going to have hiccups, preparation will help you minimize these challenges.

Look back on the successes and failures of the previous year. What could you have done differently? Make a thorough checklist and prep your materials as soon as you can, including a detailed schedule and all plan information.

You’ll also want to look at the materials and communications you used last year. Audit what material you can reuse, update or completely overhaul. By having a game plan going into open enrollment, you should feel confident in your success this year.

Once you have your game plan, think about the logistics of it. What do you expect to take the longest amount of time? Is there anything you did last year that was a complete waste of time? Eliminate it.

Get online

A benefits administration platform makes open enrollment easier. It doesn’t have to be a never-ending cycle of paperwork, client support and record maintenance. With a benefits platform, you’re able to streamline enrollment, reduce errors, cut the paperwork, and give your clients an easy-to-use tool to manage their own changes throughout the year.

Not only will you save time for yourself, but employees will have a more positive open enrollment experience and become more engaged in selecting their benefits.

Plan on communication

When it comes to open enrollment preparations, studies show planning and designing employee communication campaigns lags behind other readiness activities. However, lack of communication can lead to confusion which can ultimately lead to lower participation rates. A study by SHRM found that 41 percent of employees feel the open enrollment process at their company is “extremely confusing” and only half described their benefit communications as informative.

This year, set a few communication-based goals. Providing a benefits platform allows you to share additional benefits information in multiple ways, and you may want to challenge yourself to develop benefit information campaigns on three different platforms, like paper forms, email and video.

While it may initially seem like more work, by stepping up your communication game you will be increasing your odds for higher participation rates.

Implement with clients the right way

Open enrollment is the best time to bring clients online with your new platform, because you are implementing change during an existing time of change. Don’t hold a luncheon or a pre-renewal meeting to discuss your plan to go online. This gives more air to the conversation than is necessary, and it does not work in the advisor’s or the client’s favor.

Be a trusted advisor year-round

We encourage you to be seen as an expert on benefits and healthcare reform year-round. There are several ways you can gain the role as “trusted advisor.” Here are just a few:

Continuously educate

Don’t let your only communication about benefits be during open enrollment. Continuously remind employees about their benefits, qualifying events and healthcare reform changes throughout the year.

Be available

Make yourself easily accessible for questions that may arise about benefits. It’s important that your clients trust that you’ll be able to respond quickly, making them a priority.

Provide employee self-service

With online benefits administration, employees can make their own updates throughout the year —at any place or time— giving employees peace of mind and decreasing the number of potential questions you receive.

Expect the unexpected

Just because you have put in hours of planning doesn’t mean it’s going to be smooth sailing. In fact, expect to have a few issues along the way. After all, it wouldn’t be open enrollment without a few bumps in the road.  Plan for these potential issues by assigning a point person and process and communicating this plan in advance. This way, it will be less of a fire drill for everyone.

Make time for some fun

Reward yourself for the long hours in the office by bringing in breakfast for everyone or ordering pizza. Small, thoughtful gestures throughout the open enrollment season will help keep morale up. Setting up post-open enrollment fun can also keep spirits high while you look forward to the end of open enrollment and less hours in the office.

In addition to keeping these “steps for success” in mind, you’ll also want to avoid the following common open enrollment mistakes:

DONT: Use the wrong tools

While tools such as benefits administration platforms are helpful, they can also complicate things. Let’s say you let your clients all choose their own platforms for enrollment. It may have started with a client or two last year and now you’ve got multiple clients on multiple platforms. Over a few years this can quickly become overwhelming and confusing. One way to avoid this is by providing a platform to your clients so they aren’t forced to go and find their own.

Or maybe you picked the wrong benefits administration platform. You’re not alone. We talk to brokers all the time who have only been able to get a group or two online or are unable to even use the platform they provided to their clients. While you shouldn’t make any big changes during the fourth quarter, make it a priority after open enrollment to choose a platform since the average implementation takes 3-6 months.

Are you worried you bought the wrong platform?

Picking the wrong platform is incredibly frustrating, but we put together a guide to help agencies work through the process of switching platform vendors.

DOWNLOAD GUIDE

DONT: Cut corners

We’ve all cut corners and ended up spending hours more time on a task than necessary. While it can be tempting with a packed schedule, open enrollment is not the time for this practice. Here at BerniePortal, we see a lot of brokers try to cut corners with technology.

One example would be rolling out technology but not testing it first. This seems obvious but you would be surprised how often this happens. A technology that is built to save you time can actually cost you time if you rely on it too heavily and don’t test groups before you roll it out to the masses.

We all mistakes, but we hope sharing these common ones will save you some time this open enrollment.

Open Enrollment Technology

As you well know, open enrollment is inefficient. But there is a better way. With an online benefits administration platform, you can cut the paperwork, reduce errors, and make it easy for your clients to maintain and update their own records—meaning less time for you in perpetual support mode.

With a benefits administration platform, you’re able to streamline enrollment, reduce errors, cut the paperwork, and give your clients an easy-to-use tool to manage their own changes throughout the year.

Instead of paper forms and benefit guidebooks, everything’s online. Employees can review the Explanation of Benefits, as well as any documents you provide to illustrate new offerings or changes in their benefits.

Employees easily make their elections through the portal. The shopping cart function makes it simple to understand what each plan option costs, as well as what the employer is paying and what employees’ payroll deduction will be.

BerniePortal is industry-leading in its integration capabilities, which makes communicating employee elections to carriers easier than ever. The option you use will be based on carrier availability.

After open enrollment, BerniePortal makes it easy to review elections and make revisions, as well as maintenance and benefit summaries year-round. Whether it’s a new hire or a new baby, employers and employees can make changes and maintain accurate records directly through BerniePortal, reducing the need for perpetual support from the broker.

The open enrollment experience is far easier to manage online than on paper. Employers are starting to pick up on this as well—online benefits administration is quickly becoming the industry standard. Don’t get left behind and lose clients who are looking for a streamlined enrollment experience.

Here are 5 things to consider when shopping for a ben admin platform:

Do employees make elections in the system?

For maximized efficiency, look for a system that allows employees to actually review and choose their benefits directly within the platform. The alternative would be a system that houses information manually uploaded by HR.

There are two key reasons to look for a genuine enrollment system. First, an enrollment system minimizes the possibility of human error, as opposed to a manual-entry system. The second reason is that if you don’t have it, then you’re basically just having your employees enroll with paper – which is what you’re trying to get away from in the first place.

Is the benefits feature broker-supported?

If not, the system is probably not as robust as what most organizations will require.

The most advanced benefits systems are actually provided to employers through a benefits broker, which creates another level of support. Systems not supported by a broker likely have big gaps in functionality – gaps that keep brokers away.

Even small employers needs to think about this. Why? Because the size of the employer has little to do with the complexity of the benefits package. Brokers provide key expertise here and a system that works in tandem with the broker produces the best results.

Does it connect with the onboarding system?

After onboarding, most new hires want to make their benefits elections. It can be handy to have these two functions connected to ensure compliance, eligibility, and ease of use for the new employee.

Does is administer qualifying events?

Look for a system that can handle enrollment both during open enrollment and in the case of qualifying events, such as marriage, a new baby, loss of coverage, or other scenarios. Many benefits systems allow employees to self-service. In other words, they can update their own information in regards to qualifying events or benefits changes. If the system can only handle benefits elections during open enrollment, you will still have to maintain paper process for other events.

Does it administer a full array of benefits?

Consider whether the system can handle a full array of benefits, including life, critical illness, dental coverage and more, as opposed to just the major medical plan. A benefits system reduces the administrative burden of offering several lines of coverage, so choosing a platform that can administer many types of coverage will allow employers to take advantage of those efficiency gains.

Because benefits touches so many parts of the HR ecosystem, in general, a comprehensive system that integrates benefits with other HR functionality will provide more value than a less robust system. Considering these five questions will help HR leaders find the right solution for their organization.

If you’re already considering bringing your agency online to reduce inefficiencies and streamline processes during open enrollment you’ll want to make sure to properly vet the level of customer service and support your benefits platform provides.

Here are 3 ways your vendor should be supporting your agency during open enrollment. If you aren’t getting this level of customer service, you may want to consider whether you have the right platform:

A quick turnaround

This applies to customer service issues in general—how quickly does your support team member get back to you? Are you constantly waiting for a response? Has it caused issues with your clients?

But in particular, this also applies to build-outs. While implementing during open enrollment, how quickly is your vendor able to build out your clients’ platforms? BerniePortal completes build-outs in one to three business days, compared to weeks or even months with other platforms.

Quality resources

Your vendor should provide a variety of resources for both your agency and your clients and their employees. You should be able to easily find information on the platform’s features, uses and best practices, as well as share that information with your clients. BerniePortal provides daily demos, a searchable Knowledge Base, a Resource Library, and regular webinars with our leadership team and industry experts.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

Marketing solutions

How effective was your vendor’s training around marketing and implementing your new platform with clients and prospects? You should leave training feeling more than comfortable communicating the value proposition to current and prospective clients. BerniePortal provides a tried and tested go-to-market strategy as well as marketing materials to use as you roll out our software.

Post Open Enrollment

Congrats! You’ve survived another open enrollment season (hopefully with our tips and some new technology, it was less stressful than previous open enrollments). Now what?

While you should be celebrating, there’s still more to do to ensure long-term success and happy clients all year long. Here are the steps you should take after open enrollment season to guarantee success in the coming year:

STEP 1: Debrief

It’s time to take an inventory of what worked and what didn’t work. You probably had a few situations during open enrollment where you thought, “Next year, I should….” and these should be documented. It’s best to do this immediately following open enrollment while events are fresh in your mind.

When you’re debriefing, make sure that you take into account opinions other than your own. By using data from your online benefits administration software and feedback from your clients, you can create a more well-rounded view of what worked and what didn’t. You can take this a step further by giving a survey at the employee level. From such a survey, you may learn they had trouble understanding their offerings or selecting their benefits online.

STEP 2: Make improvements

Once you have completed a full review of open enrollment, it’s time to make some changes. Reallocate the time you have recently gained to improve your business. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what you can do to guarantee your long-term success. For most brokers, this will mean adopting technology and expanding your offerings.

Adopting a single software solution for your clients can address several issues at once. Software can not only improve communication and increase enrollment numbers, but it can also help your brokerage stay competitive as software companies continue to enter the market.

STEP 3: Educate employers & employees

Once you have started to make changes, it’s time to educate your clients and their employees. Reminding employees of their benefits throughout the year is key to ongoing engagement from both employers and employees. You should continuously educate your employers on ways they can stay competitive with their benefit offerings as well as employees on the benefits they may not be taking advantage of.

In addition, remember that you’re seen as the expert on compliance topics such as the upcoming 1095-C reporting requirements. Make sure that you’re well versed on these reporting requirements and providing resources to your clients as they go through this process for the first time.

If you are planning to make a significant improvement to your business such as providing online benefits software or additional offerings to your clients, let them know it’s coming. Sharing the good news demonstrates your commitment to providing the most up-to-date offerings to your client.

STEP 4: Set up meetings

Last, set up your meetings for the year. Setting up quarterly meetings with your clients can guarantee you’re always working towards the next renewal and improving your relationship. Meetings throughout the year can be used to educate employers on new wellness strategies or regulatory requirements they should be aware of. By the time open enrollment rolls around again, you and your clients will be more closely aligned.

We hope these post open enrollment steps help you prepare for the coming year. While brokers will continue to face a changing landscape, taking these steps in the next year will guarantee you’re on track for next open enrollment season.

Conclusion

There’s no denying it–open enrollment is tough, but that doesn’t mean it has to be even harder because of inefficiencies, errors and tight deadlines. It is possible to have a less stressful, more successful open enrollment period, and we hope this guide helps make that possibility a reality.

Broker’s Guide to Open Enrollment

Need more information on how to streamline open enrollment? Download our Brokers guide to open enrollment.

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