August 18, 2021Open Enrollment
Key Points to Improving the Open Enrollment Process
Often an area of concern for HR teams, the annual benefit renewal period – otherwise known as open enrollment (OE) – is on the to-do list for countless HR professionals across the nation. Though the process must be planned for and completed every year, due to staff turnover and changes in policy, open enrollment can be complex and demanding for many reasons. When OE is rushed or poorly rolled out inaccuracies and miscommunication occur, and employees can be left stranded without the benefits they counted on. As less seasoned administrators take on benefits management due to increased rates of turnover seen nationwide, open enrollment has been pushed to the forefront of high stakes issues that newer HR employees must navigate. Read on for OE best practice tips from Wise benefits experts.
The first rule of OE is easy to understand: “Open enrollment can be a challenging time of the year, so the earlier you can start, the better,” says Kayla Potter, UKG Certified Implementation Partner and Wise Consultant. Beginning earlier in the year as opposed to the typical timeline of October through December with an effective date of January 1 could mean the difference between success and failure. A good rule of thumb to follow is to begin planning and initiating carrier feed requests 3 months before OE is set to kick off.
Avoid Delays Caused by Long Carrier Feed Queues
Carrier feeds, integrations, interfaces – no matter what you call them, they require advanced planning. Those new to open enrollment may not realize the many weeks it can take to have benefit interfaces built due to unavoidable queues. With brand new carrier feeds, it is important to know your HRIS vendor’s deadline to make requests, and as they tend to be high in demand, it is necessary to get in that queue as early as possible. Be sure to allow plenty of time for testing, re-testing and establishing a solid back-up plan in case of sudden changes. When it comes to existing carrier feeds, get to know the carrier blackout dates and submit change requests to your HRIS vendor early, as changes frequently require rounds of testing. Added tip: it is important to audit the employee elections before the OE file is sent off for completion.
Choosing Between Active and Passive Enrollment
You must determine the type of enrollment experience that you want employees to have. The two choices, active enrollment and passive enrollment, both have the ability to benefit employees but can also create difficulties within the process of open enrollment, meaning that it is vital to choose the plan that suits you and your employees best.
“Active enrollment means that all of your employees are going to complete an enrollment, regardless of whether or not they want to make changes; they are reelecting their benefit,” says Amanda Babbidge GBA, a Dayforce Certified Implementation Consultant. She adds that active enrollment is easier to explain to employees and to clearly identify who must participate, an advantage due to the importance of clear communication when approaching OE. Additionally, new elections ensure that records are updated with plan and rate changes, and the dynamic nature of open enrollment provides consistent effective dates year after year. But HRIS departments must be aware that choosing active enrollment means that HR teams conducting enrollment must follow up with employees who don’t participate and prompt them to complete it, and employees are more likely to make changes that cause error.
On the other hand, Amanda points out that “passive enrollment means that the only people who are going to participate are those wanting to make changes, or if they need to enroll in an FSA or an HSA.” Passive enrollment provides the benefit of being voluntary and therefore excludes the need for tracking down unresponsive employees. It also requires less HR involvement in fielding questions and creates greater ease with management as there are fewer plan changes. Yet with the seemingly appealing optional nature of passive enrollment comes difficulty, as it can become confusing for employees to determine whether or not they should participate. This can lead to missed notifications and deadlines and poor participation. It might also require extra steps to pick up plan and rate changes, while elections may have a variety of effective dates that become disorienting when placed on reports.
Determining what type of enrollment plan your company will use early on will pave the way for clearer communication with employees, while helping you plan for success and understand which pitfalls to watch out for.
Generating Open Enrollment Employee Awareness & Communication
Generating awareness about open enrollment to employees is a crucial part of ensuring success. Employees need a timely heads-up that OE is approaching, and they will need easy access to plan documents as well as important facts and deadlines. Communicating across multiple channels, depending on what channels are available within your organization, is important so that people who mainly use email, as well as those who more actively follow chat features or announcement platforms, can all be reached with your OE messages. Employees must be cognizant of the election rules that come into play during OE based on the enrollment method you chose. There are generally three types of plans that employees must be made aware of: core plans, reimbursement plans, and ancillary plans, each with varying election rules.
- Core plans include assets such as medical, dental and vision benefits. They are the simplest form of plan, as employees can enroll or make changes without any restrictions.
- Reimbursement plans include the FSA, HSA and Commuter benefits, each with differing forms elections. As the FSA requires new elections each year, the HSA has elections that carry over to the new plan year, and the commuter benefit requires an active election each year with a varying degree of allowed changes during the plan year.
- Ancillary plans provide benefits for life, disability and critical illness, but come with restrictions such as providing evidence of insurability and withstanding additional waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. Employees must know which of these plans to apply for during the election process, and when to make the necessary changes that will enable them to gain the benefits that they require.
Clearly communicating information and expectations around what they must do to successfully complete the process makes it easier for employees to secure the benefits that they really want while understanding and following the requirements, election rules and deadlines.
Hot Items Open Enrollment Checklist:
To help you keep your HRIS running optimally and your OE process rolling along, Amanda and Kayla put together a brief but informative checklist. Keeping these important steps and choices top of mind can assist your quest to ensure that your company is staying on the path to OE success (this is not intended to be a full list of all steps required for OE):
- Update rates/payroll deductions
- Understand guarantee issue (GI) rules
- Know the limits on reimbursement plans
- Configure Active or Passive enrollment
- Develop & communicate enrollment content
- Know Benefit Dependencies
- Update carrier feeds and know deadlines
- Understand your reporting requirements
- Test, test and test again
Reach out to Seasoned Wise Consultants for Open Enrollment Help
Though they support different clients, Amanda and Kayla share a commitment to helping Wise OE clients not only achieve success, but also learn best practices and short-cut tips along the way. They both feel grateful that so many of our benefits clients come back to Wise year after year, placing trust in our experienced consultant team to help them get the job done right.
If you have questions about open enrollment, contact a Wise consultant at 800-654-4550 or HCMHelp@WiseConsulting.com.
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