5 open enrollment communication strategies for your remote workforce

As the employee benefits workforce continues to stay remote in a majority of places, it's important for them to strategize their communication especially as open enrollment season is coming around the corner. Read this blog post for helpful tips.


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employers to switch from a mostly onsite workforce to a remote or dispersed workforce, employers were faced with effectively and consistently communicating benefits to employees who were located in different locations, whether that meant offices in different cities or countries; work from home employees; employees working in warehouses, factories, and distribution centers; or employees working at different branches of retail or service businesses.

This communication is important because when employees are unaware of what benefits are available or don’t know how to access their benefits, utilization can drop significantly, so neither employees nor employers are getting value from the benefit offerings. In addition, when employees aren’t using or aware of their benefits, satisfaction with employers decline, which can impact both productivity and retention.

The goal is to both effectively and continuously communicate with employees and build awareness and understanding of available benefits, not just during open enrollment, but all year long. Of course, each communication strategy will be shaped by the organization’s culture, but there are several tools that employers should consider including in their benefits communication toolkit.

Diversify your benefits communication tools
Before developing your benefits communications plan, determine how employees prefer to receive this information by surveying them. In most organizations, there will be several different approaches that appeal to employees because of differences in employee ages, locations (office vs. warehouse or delivery truck), and comfort level with technology.

In the past, standard benefits communications were printed materials that were either distributed at work or mailed home. And while this tool is still effective and gives employees something they can use as a reference throughout the year, there are several other tools that employers should consider using to reach their diverse employee audiences.

Dedicated benefits websites and/or mobile apps broaden access to information
Unlike printed materials, with an online benefits site and mobile app employees can access the content wherever they are, whenever they want, and employers can update the information frequently without incurring printing costs. The site can also serve as a convenient way for employees to ask benefits questions, which can be answered by email from an HR team member, a benefits vendor’s support team or for simple, frequently asked questions, by a chatbot.

Email or text?
Employers will most likely need to include both emails and texts in their plans, but these tools may be used in different ways and with different audiences. For example, texts are a good way to reach employees who are younger or more tech savvy as well as those who are on the road a great deal or don’t work at a desk. These messages will be shorter and will focus on prompting employees to take specific actions, such as enrolling in benefits, updating beneficiaries or submitting receipts for reimbursement under an FSA, HSA, or HRA. They can also be used to remind employees about underutilized benefits to drive participation.

Emails can communicate more detailed information and directly link employees to benefits websites and other resources. However, emails should be kept as succinct as possible to ensure that employees are not overwhelmed with information and skip reading the communication.

Open channels for two-way communication
Providing benefits information to employees is only one part of the communication equation. Employees also need frequent opportunities to ask questions and share their thoughts on what they want and need from their benefits plan. That can be harder to make happen for a dispersed workforce, but video-based webinars, town hall meetings and “ask me anything” sessions with members of the benefits team can be effective approaches.

To ensure everyone has access to information regardless of location or job type there should be multiple sessions for different time zones and schedules, and the sessions should be recorded, posted on the company employee site and include the opportunity to email or text in questions for employees who cannot attend a live event.

Try out-of-the-box communication tools to engage employees
In addition to more traditional communication tools, consider trying different formats that make information more digestible and engaging, such as quizzes, polls, short videos, infographics and storytelling. The goal is to keep employees interested in what their benefits offer and what’s new to help them get the most out of their plans.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (14 September 2020) "Views 5 open enrollment communication strategies for your remote workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/5-open-enrollment-communication-strategies-for-your-remote-workforce


5 ways to prepare for open enrollment during COVID-19

As open enrollment draws near, it's time to critically prepare for it especially during the crazy time that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to many families. Read this blog post to learn more.


The COVID-19 pandemic has focused consumer attention on health care, germs and the impact a single illness can have on their lives, livelihoods and loved ones. With the fall open enrollment season just months away, you have the opportunity to think more critically about the specific plans you choose for yourself and your family, as well as any voluntary benefits that may be available to you, including childcare, elder care and critical illness. In a world where it feels like health is out of the individual’s control, we all want, at the very least, to feel control over our coverage.

As we know all too well, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing and using health care benefits. The most important piece of becoming an informed health care consumer is ensuring you have access to — and understand — the benefits information you need to make smart health care choices. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you prepare for and participate in open enrollment.

1. Prepare for COVID-19 aftermath

As if dealing with the threat of the virus (or actually contracting it) wasn’t enough, consumers must consider the unexpected consequences. Quarantines, stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns have resulted in missed preventive care visits — including annual immunizations. For instance, many children will have missed their preschool vaccinations, which could result in an uptick in measles, mumps and rubella. If school is conducted virtually, the risk of catching one of these highly contagious diseases is somewhat reduced, though consumers should still proceed with caution as states reopen. In fact, with continued waves of COVID-19 expected well into the school season, you and your children may have to wait even longer to get vaccinations due to pent up demand and possible shortages.

Don’t forget that preventive care is covered by most plans at 100% in-network regardless of where that care is received. Schedule your appointments as soon as possible (and permissible in their area), and research other venues for receiving care, such as pharmacies, retail clinics and urgent care facilities. Most are equipped to provide standard vaccinations and/or routine physicals.

Unfortunately, there are also the long-term implications of COVID-19 to consider. Research suggests that there are serious health impacts that emerge in survivors of COVID-19, such as the onset of diabetes and liver, heart and lung problems. And many who were able to ride out the virus at home are finding it’s taking months, not weeks, to fully recover. As a result, you should prepare for the possibility that you, or a loved one, may be ill and possibly out of work for an extended period of time. Be sure to evaluate all of the plans and programs your employer offers to ensure your family has the financial protections you need. For some, a richer health plan with a lower deductible, voluntary plans such as critical illness or hospital indemnity insurance, and buy-up life and disability insurance may be worth investigating for the first time.

2. Re-evaluate postponed elective procedures

Many employees or their family members have postponed or skipped elective procedures — either from fear of exposure to COVID-19 at hospitals and outpatient facilities, or because their hospitals and providers cancelled such procedures to conserve resources to treat COVID-19 patients. As a result, an estimated 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide could be canceled or postponed in 2020 due to the virus.

As hospitals reopen, it may be difficult to schedule a procedure due to scheduling requirements and pent up demand. A second opinion may be in order if your condition stabilized, improved or worsened during the delay; there may be other treatment options available.

A delay in scheduling also provides an opportunity to “shop around” for a facility that will provide needed care at an appropriate price — especially if you are choosing to go out-of-network or have a plan without a network. Researching cost is the best way to find the most affordable providers and facilities with the best quality, based on your specific needs.

Many medical plans offer second opinion and transparency services, and there are independent organizations who provide “white glove,” personalized support in these areas. Read over your enrollment materials carefully, or check your plan’s summary plan description, to see what your employer offers. If nothing is available, ask your employer to look into it, and don’t hesitate to do some research on your own. Doing so can often result in substantial cost savings, without compromising on quality of care.

3. Confirm your caregivers

Because so few elective procedures were performed during the initial phases of the pandemic, many hospitals sustained huge financial losses. As a result, many small hospitals are closing, and large hospitals are using this opportunity to purchase smaller, independent medical practices that became more financially vulnerable during the pandemic. Further, many physicians have opted to retire or close their practices in light of the drastic reductions to their income during local shutdowns.

Be sure to check up on your preferred health care providers — especially those you might not see regularly — to confirm they are still in business and still in network (if applicable). If you live in a rural area, you may have to travel farther to reach in-network facilities. If you’re currently covered by an HMO or EPO, you may want to evaluate whether that option still makes sense, if your preferred in-network providers are no longer available.

4. Look at ALL the options

Voluntary coverages — such as critical illness, hospital indemnity, buy-up disability, and supplemental life insurance — may help ease your concerns about how you will protect your and your family’s finances if you become ill. Pandemic aside, these benefits can provide a substantial safety net at a relatively low cost. Investigate your employer’s offerings — many employers are offering virtual benefit fairs where vendors can provide more information about these benefits while remaining safe from large social gatherings.

When was the last time you changed your medical plan? If you’ve been keeping the same coverage for years, it might be time to look at what else is available. Your employer may have introduced new plans, or you may find that a different plan makes more sense financially based on how often you need health care. Don’t forget — the cheapest plan isn’t always the one with the lowest premiums.

5. Uncover every resource available

Besides your health coverage (medical, dental and vision), many employers offer other plans and programs to support your health. While you’re already focused on benefits, take the time to learn about what else is available to you. These offerings may range from the previously mentioned advocacy and transparency services and voluntary benefits, to personalized, one-on-one enrollment support, to telemedicine services and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Also, many employers made temporary or permanent plan changes to address COVID-19 regulations and concerns. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these changes — and when they might expire.

You may also want to consider setting aside funds in a health savings account or health care flexible spending account (if available). If your employer offers a wellness program, this might be an opportunity to start adopting better health habits to ensure you’re better equipped physically and mentally to deal with whatever lies ahead.

While open enrollment may seem daunting, devoting an hour or two to reviewing your plan options, the programs available to support you and your family physically, mentally and financially, and how to get the most from the coverages you do elect, can go a long way towards providing peace of mind as we face the unknowns of 2021.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (17 August 2020) "5 ways to prepare for open enrollment during COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/5-ways-to-prepare-for-open-enrollment-during-covid-19


Spotlight Value of Benefits Package During Open Enrollment


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of helping employees maintain physical, mental and financial health, making this year's open enrollment period a critical time for employers to think about the benefits they're providing and to communicate the value of these offerings to employees.

"This is not a typical year," said Hope Manion, senior vice president for Fidelity Investments' workplace consulting division. "We cannot simply default our benefits like we may have done in previous years."

She advises employers to encourage employees to spend more time during this year's enrollment period reviewing their benefits, learning about all of their offerings and asking questions. "Given that so many have experienced financial and health crises this year, now is the time to ensure they don't overlook benefits that could impact their future health and financial well-being," she noted.

Employees Rush Through Enrollment

Nearly three-quarters of employees—73 percent—spend less than an hour, and 41 percent invest less than 30 minutes, reviewing their benefits at enrollment time, according to a March study of 1,200 U.S. consumers on behalf of life and accident insurer Colonial Life. Because the pandemic has changed the way millions of workers live and work, simply rushing through their annual benefits enrollment won't do this year.

"If this year has taught us anything, it's the importance of our health and the value in taking every opportunity to protect it," said Richard Shaffer, senior vice president of field and market development at Colonial Life. "As we head into enrollment season this fall, workers across the country need to take time to ensure they're protecting their families, finances and futures against unexpected events."

Surprisingly, those who are the least confident in their knowledge of the benefits available to them are most likely to rush through the enrollment process. Nearly 90 percent of employees who reported not understanding their benefits "at all" said they plan to spend less than an hour on enrollment this year.

"Especially in today's environment, offering benefits isn't enough," Shaffer said. "To make the investment pay off, employers must ensure employees take the time to understand, value and participate in the benefits enrollment process."

Showcasing How Benefits Are Vital

A new Fidelity report, Uncovering the Real Value of the Benefits You Offer, shows that employees are often unaware of their benefits options and frequently don't take advantage of them. The findings are from a survey of nearly 9,500 participants in Fidelity-administered benefit plans.

For instance, only 61 percent of employees could report whether telemedicine was offered to them. "In this case, if you are offering a benefit low in awareness, you may need to go back to basics and increase promotional efforts that emphasize availability, what it is, and how to use it," the report points out.

Health saving accounts (HSAs) are a different story. While 92 percent of employees surveyed knew whether an HSA was available, many chose not to opt for a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), which is a requirement to contribute to an HSA. However, 89 percent of account-holders who used an HSA reported that it had a positive effect on their lives. "In this case, awareness about availability isn't the issue, but employees may not understand the value a benefit brings," the report stated.

Approaching Open Enrollment

Fidelity's Manion suggested that open enrollment communications encourage employees to consider the following when selecting benefits for the year ahead:

  • Health insurance. Consider your finances, family health status, and preferred health care providers and hospitals when choosing health care coverage. Review deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. To take advantage of an HSA, enroll in an HDHP.
  • HSAs and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). Take the time to learn how each of these accounts can be used, reviewing eligibility guidelines and updates to coverage, including services like telemedicine and over-the-counter medications.
  • Retirement savings. Consider increasing your 401(k) retirement savings plan contribution if the company reduced or suspended its match as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other benefits may not require an employee to enroll and so are often overlooked despite their value, Manion noted. Be sure to highlight information regarding:

  • Telemedicine. Among Fidelity clients, 76 percent saw an increase in telemedicine use since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This benefit will continue to be important, and employees should understand how it works.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs). As the pandemic caused many people to experience anxiety, mental health and counseling services, such as those offered through an EAP, saw a 39 percent increase in use. This is a benefit that is impactful to employees' overall well-being when offered.
  • Wellness programs. Wellness programs are much appreciated when used, but 30 percent of employees surveyed did not know whether their employer offered them.

With millions of employees still working at home, effective benefits communication is more challenging than ever, Colonial Life's Schaffer said. He advised business and HR leaders to "ensure they're providing opportunities for employees to learn basic information and ask questions, even in a virtual environment."

5 Questions to Kick-Start Open Enrollment Planning

For employees dealing with physical, emotional and economic setbacks due to the pandemic, "this will be the year to reevaluate insurance and financial safety nets, so keep this in mind as you communicate about medical plans, disability insurance, flexible spending accounts and other financial wellness benefits," blogged Megan Yost, vice president and engagement strategist at communications consultancy Segal Benz in San Francisco.

She advised open enrollment managers to ask themselves five questions:

  • What will make this year's open enrollment a success?
  • How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact my goals and outreach strategy?
  • What barriers could prevent my employees from taking action?
  • What might I need to do differently from last year?
  • Who do I need to include to help make open enrollment a success?

"Even if you don't have all your plan design changes finalized just yet, planning ahead can help make everything go more smoothly and minimize unnecessary stress," Yost observed. "Lay your foundation now—and fill in the details when you have them."

SOURCE: Miller, S. (10 August 2020) "Spotlight Value of Benefits Package During Open Enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/spotlight-benefits-value-during-open-enrollment.aspx


A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment

The end of open enrollment season is quickly approaching. During open enrollment, employees have the chance to choose a benefits plan or change from the plan they currently have. Read this blog post for a few things employees should consider when choosing a plan.


Now is the time to choose the best health plan for you and your family. During open enrollment season, employers and the Health Insurance Marketplace (or Exchange) let you choose a plan or change from the plan you have. Making the right choice can impact your health and your wallet.

Even if your current coverage seems satisfactory, your employer or the Exchange may offer new options that better suit your needs. It is important to compare costs and to understand differences in benefits, networks and other rules. In some states, plans available outside the official Marketplace offer attractive, low premiums but may have dollar limits on benefits, or may not provide coverage for childbirth, mental health and other services mandatory for plans that qualify under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “Obamacare”). Review and compare such plans’ terms carefully.

The time for your decision is limited. Employers generally provide a month or more to make your selection. Open enrollment for the federal Marketplace runs only from November 1, 2019, to December 15, 2019. Exceptions may be made for life changes like the birth of a child or loss of coverage under a spouse’s plan, but if you miss open enrollment season, you will probably have to wait another year to enroll. Here are some things to think about when choosing a plan.

Costs

The first cost to consider is the premium — the payment, usually monthly, to maintain coverage. If you get your plan through your job, your employer may pay all or part of the premium. If you choose a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for a premium tax credit to reduce the premium.

Other insurance costs are known as cost sharing, because you share the cost of care with your plan. They may take the form of a copay (a fixed dollar amount for each service), coinsurance (a set percentage of the cost of a service) or a deductible (the amount you must pay before your plan starts paying for services). If you select a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for cost-sharing reductions to lower those expenses.

In principle, it would be nice if all the costs were as low as possible. But usually, low-cost sharing comes with a high premium. High-deductible health plans may offer lower premiums but you will pay more out-of-pocket before your insurance pays anything.

In shopping for a health plan, consider how high a premium you are willing to pay for the level of cost sharing you would like. For example, if you or a family member have a chronic illness, you may need regular treatment and may be at risk for hospitalization. In that case, you may be willing to pay a higher premium for low-cost sharing. But if you are a healthy, young, single adult who rarely sees a doctor, you might accept a high deductible in exchange for a low premium.

Bear in mind that if you have a high-deductible health plan, you might be eligible to set up a health savings account (HSA). An HSA provides tax savings that stretch the dollars you contribute to the account to help pay for qualified medical expenses.

Choice of Doctors

If you like your current doctors and want to keep seeing them, make sure they and their facilities belong to the network of providers who have contracted with the plan you are considering. Check the plan’s online provider directory to make sure those doctors and their facilities are listed in its network. Even if you do not have a regular doctor, make sure the network includes providers close to where you live and work.

If you want to choose freely among many providers, a plan with a broad network might be for you. That may be more expensive than a plan with a narrow network, which may cost less but has a more limited choice of providers.

Out-of-Network Coverage

As good as a plan’s network might be, you may still wish to consult providers outside the network from time to time. If so, consider a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Point of Service (POS) plan; each provides out-of-network benefits. With such plans, you will still spend more for out-of-network than in-network care, but at least you will have some coverage. Two other types of plans, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO), typically will not pay for out-of-network care except for emergencies.

Who’s in Charge of Your Care?

In HMO and POS plans, you choose a primary care physician (PCP) who acts as a form of “gatekeeper” for your care. Unless it is an emergency, when you need medical treatment, you go to the PCP first. The PCP either treats you personally or refers you to specialists in your network. If you like having a PCP’s guidance, this arrangement might work for you. But if you prefer choosing specialists directly, you might opt for a PPO or EPO.

ACA-Compliant versus Association and Short-Term Plans

Whatever plan you choose, it is important to consider whether it covers all the types of healthcare you might need and whether it limits the dollar amount of your coverage. Plans that comply with the ACA are comprehensive because they have to cover 10 essential health benefits. Short-term, limited-duration (STLD) health plans, do not have to cover all those benefits. They may, for example, not cover childbirth, mental health or prescription drugs. If you end up needing care that is not covered, you will have to pay the whole cost yourself.

AHPs and STLD plans differ from ACA-compliant plans in other ways. For example, STLD plans can impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on coverage. If your care costs more than those limits, you have to pay the excess amount.

SOURCE: Gelburd, R. (5 December 2019) "A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/a-health-insurance-primer-for-your-employees-during-open-enrollment


Improving your employee experience during open enrollment

Is your company open enrollment hosted on an online platform? Employers often struggle with employee participation during the open enrollment season. Hosting enrollments online is one way to increase employee participation this year. Read on for more tips to help ease this open enrollment season.d


For HR professionals, open enrollment is one of the most stressful and demanding times of the year. Many employers struggle with employee participation and expensive, time-consuming roll-outs. They also have to provide resources to help employees make the right plan selections for themselves and their families. As we head into another open enrollment season, consider these tips to ease the process.

Switch your open enrollments to online platforms.

If you’re still relying on paper enrollment forms, you are likely spending more money and time than you need to in pursuit of your manual work process and its many inconsistencies. Online platforms provide optimum efficiency, accuracy and convenience for your workforce, offering employee self-service options that encourage employees to take initiative in selecting the best plan for their situation. Not only will members of your workforce benefit from the convenience of being able to explore their options on their own time, but you’ll be able to offer them multi-lingual enrollment materials and have more time to assist them than ever before.

Prioritize and diversify communication.

One of the top ways to ensure a smooth open enrollment period is to use multiple communication channels, including frequent reminders regarding open enrollment deadlines. Without consistent outreach on the part of your HR officers and general managers, you will likely find yourself hunting people down to meet your enrollment and extension deadlines. Using an online self-service portal as well as traditional in-person meetings allow you to remind your employees of critical dates and changes as enrollment closes in.

The robust benefits administration system you choose should offer enrollment tracking and reporting features so you can see at a glance who still needs to begin open enrollment, who has left enrollment documents incomplete, who has made changes to their benefits (such as adding a dependent) and more. You can arrange for the system to send automatic reminders to signal the employee that further actions are needed. Providing multiple reminders will improve participation and the completion of on-time enrollments.

Help employees choose the best health plan for their situation.

In order to have the most successful open enrollment period possible, educating your employees on the different plan options available will go a long towards ensuring employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that most employees don’t have the necessary understanding of terms like “deductible” and “coinsurance,” let alone the tools to know which plan is best for their individual needs. Incorporating at-a-glance comparison tools and charts into your online or print enrollment materials can help employees make the most informed decision possible. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials like videos and simplified plan charts or cost calculators.

Keep Up with Benefit Trends and Voluntary Offerings.

Given the current labor shortage and competitive talent market, you’ll want to make sure your company is up to speed on which new benefits your competitors are looking to add, as well as which ones are appealing to specific roles, locations or generations within potential candidates from your hiring pool.

Voluntary benefits, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in employee benefits portfolios and they don’t cost you anything. Some of the most popular voluntary benefits right now include identity theft protection, pet insurance, long term care insurance and critical illness protection. If you aren’t currently offering these types of additional benefits, they could be a cost-effective way to boost employee morale, increase participation in enrollment and attract more workers to your business.

SOURCE: Smith, M. (2 December 2019) "Improving your employee experience during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/improving-your-employee-experience-during-open-enrollment


Key factors in choosing your benefits during open enrollment

Employers are now realizing that in order to attract and retain talent, they have to provide the best benefits. But, how do employees select the right benefits out of all the available options? Read the following blog post from Employee Benefit News for a few key factors to consider when choosing your benefits during open enrollment.


Even if you are a veteran in choosing employer-sponsored benefits, the landscape is shifting. Over the past years, we’ve seen changes to mental health counseling stipends, extended maternity/paternity leave and family building. Companies across industries are realizing that in order to attract and retain talent, they need to provide best in class benefits that save employers unforeseen costs in the long run, and shows employees that their employers are invested in their wellbeing — in and out of the office.

With all these available options and only a short window to select what’s right for you, here’s what should you look out for during open enrollment.

Which benefits matter to me?

The beauty of a diverse workforce is that employees may represent various walks of life. However, this means that not all benefits make sense for every person. Perhaps your boss is prioritizing childcare for his toddler while your colleague is looking to refinance student loans. Whatever your life circumstance, ask yourself, “Which benefits are most pertinent to my life and life goals in the coming year?”

For instance, fertility benefits may not be immediately attractive at first glance, even if you’re actively thinking about starting a family. But 1 in 8 couples will be impacted by infertility and treatment without coverage can be wildly expensive. It’s important to make sure you’re thinking critically and getting all the necessary information when browsing for your benefits. Rule of thumb: if this could impact you in the coming year, even if you’re not 100% sure, opt-in for coverage.

What’s actually covered?

During open enrollment, be sure to ask your benefits team about how robust each offering is and what’s included. A particular benefit may look like it has a lot to offer, but after further investigation, you may uncover restrictions, unforeseen out of pocket costs and other obstacles that may make it harder for you to utilize the benefit.

With fertility benefits, many conventional carriers offer coverage with a dollar maximum, meaning you’d max out on coverage before completing a full IVF cycle. Plus, there are additional costs outside of the basic IVF procedure, like diagnostic testing, medications, and genetic testing which may come with a hefty price tag you’d have to pay for. Without adequate coverage, many people have to make cost-based decisions, forgoing the technology they need to reach a successful outcome.

As an alternative, Progyny’s coverage is bundled, meaning your entire treatment event is covered and you do not have to worry about what is or is not included, or fear running out of coverage mid-way through. Many vendors have similar disruptive solutions to ensure they’re not leaving their members high and dry during difficult times.

When sifting through options, be sure you’re asking what’s covered and not covered under your plan. A lot of benefits may seem expansive, but make sure you’re getting the most out of the coverage that’s available to you. Ask: Are the best clinics in your area included in your plan as “in-network”? Do you have to meet medical necessity requirements before being allowed to access your benefits?

Which benefits are supported?

Once you’ve opted in for benefits during open enrollment, how do you access your benefit? How do you move forward with treatment? Does your benefit provide access to the doctors in your area? Since many of these offerings are complex and without proper onboarding, how can you be expected to understand the next steps?

With the growing emphasis on mental health and concierge member experience, companies like Progyny try to eliminate some of the member’s burden and create an easy to use benefit model that provides member support. For example, our dedicated Patient Care Advocates — a concierge-style fertility coach — helps members navigate the clinical and emotional aspects of your fertility treatment, making a difficult process a bit easier.

Another important factor to consider when shopping for benefits is access to care where you live — are the doctors that your insurance covers close by and easy to get to? When choosing your benefits, look out for any information about access to support. The goal of a benefit is to make your life easier, not leave you feeling confused and stressed in times of need.

What do I do if I’m unhappy with the benefits offered during open enrollment?

Often times, employers are unaware of what an employee wants until it’s brought to their attention. If you are unhappy with the benefits offered, raise the issue with your HR team! You are your own best advocate and change begins with you.

Not sure where to start? If you are comfortable, speak with your colleagues. Seek out a company resource group to see if others have similar needs. This way you can help form a plan or a way to approach HR. Once you have an idea of what you need, talk to HR to explain why the proposed benefit would be pertinent to you and your colleagues. Employers understand that the key to keeping good talent is making sure they’re happy.

Open enrollment can be overwhelming but take advantage of the resources you have. Ask questions, do your research, and discuss the options with experts in your office. With an arsenal of helpful information at your disposal, open enrollment should be stress-free and get you excited for all of the incredible employer-sponsored benefits in your future.

SOURCE: Ajmani, K. (25 November 2019) "Key factors in choosing your benefits during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-choose-benefits-during-open-enrollment


IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans will be able to add up to $19,500 in 2020. Read this blog post to learn more about this increase in retirement contributions.


The IRS said this week that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans plans can add $19,500 next year, an increase from $19,000 in 2019.

The move could help workers save more for retirement, but it may be inconvenient for employers who’ve already started open enrollment, experts say. Employees are now able to set aside $500 more for retirement.

“Every penny counts when you’re saving for retirement, and the higher contribution limit is definitely going to help,” says Jacob Mattinson, partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, a Chicago-based law firm. “But since companies are in the midst of open enrollment, employers may have to go back in and change the entries for employees who want to contribute the max.”

There are about 27.1 million 401(k) plan participants using roughly 110,794 employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says. Ninety-three percent of employers offer a 401(k) plan, and around 74% of companies match workers’ contributions, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the vast majority of employers do offer retirement savings plans, employees may still be struggling to sock away money. Around 70% of workers say debt has negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement, EBRI says.

“Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate.

The IRS also upped contribution limits on Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees plans, or SIMPLE retirement accounts, to $13,500 from $13,000. The agency did not change the contribution limits to IRAs, which remain at $6,000 annually.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 November 2019) "IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/irs-increases-retirement-contributions-for-2020


‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees

An emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts (LSA), are one way employers can stay competitive. An LSA is an account that is funded solely by an employer. Employees can use the funds to purchase goods or services as long as they fall into specific categories set by the employer. Read this blog post to learn more about this emerging benefit.


Employers seeking new ways to stay competitive in the employee benefits marketplace might consider an emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts, whose aim is to broaden employee access range of health and happiness-oriented goods and services.

There’s really no limit to the types of things LSAs can fund, but that endless range of choices can make it difficult for employers to get started.

But first, the basics: An LSA account is funded solely by the employer (and which is taxable as income to employees. The employee can use the funds to purchase goods or services, as long as they fall into the categories of the employer’s choosing. Think investments in physical and mental well-being, environmentally friendly goods or childcare.

The accounts are popular on the West Coast and in Canada. and is gaining traction throughout other parts of the U.S.

Employers can choose to fund a wide range of options, depending on what they think will appeal most to their workforce. For instance, while some carriers reimburse employees for gym memberships, employers can supplement a healthy physical lifestyle by adding workout studios to the options menu; personal or small-group training; workout equipment such as weights, a stationary bike or a treadmill; workout clothes; or nutrition counseling.

And while mental well-being is a new benefits focus of many employers, health plans typically only cover a limited number of counseling sessions. Employers can supplement this benefit by providing funds for therapy or counseling sessions.

Some employers are also using LSAs to help employees with child-related expenses, starting at the very beginning with help with fertility treatments, progressing to doulas and midwives and on to baby gear and then childcare.

But back to the too-much-choice dilemma. To figure out what to fund, start by identifying gaps in your current benefit offering. For example, offering funds toward gym and studio memberships is an obvious place to start if you don’t already have a program in place. Consider what types of employees you want to recruit and retain, and think about what sort of behaviors you want to influence. LSAs can be offered to an entire workforce, or different fund amounts can be offered to different classes of employees.

Other issues to consider: how will you deliver the funds and what happens when an employee leaves or is terminated. These are minor details, but they could leave you with headaches if you don’t address them prior to rollout.

LSAs are typically managed by a TPA that will adjudicate claims and approve purchase reimbursements, removing the hassle of managing a program for large employers.

For employers hoping to encourage employees toward certain healthy behaviors and sweeten benefits packages, LSAs can help round out offerings and act as another recruitment and retention tool.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P. (25 October 2019) "‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/lifestyle-benefits-for-attraction-and-retention


The Open Enrollment Checklist: Are You Poised for a Successful Season

Are you prepared for open enrollment? According to a recent survey, 56 percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said health coverage satisfaction is a key factor in deciding whether they should leave their current job. Read this blog post from Employee Benefit News to learn more. 


It’s here… the moment we’ve all been waiting for — or, in the case of HR, preparing for (at least we’d hope). That’s right, open enrollment season has arrived.

Open enrollment is a major opportunity for HR to contribute to their company’s performance — both in terms of healthcare savings and employee productivity. The better employees understand their benefits, the more likely they are to make cost-conscious decisions about their plan choices and their healthcare — saving themselves, and their employers, money. Not only that, but a recent survey found that 56% of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job. And, interestingly, satisfaction with benefits and benefits communications have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and engagement.

Not sure you’ve done everything you could to turn this annual necessity into a true financial, educational game-changer for your organizations? Ask yourself, did you:

Take stock of last year’s enrollment? Before diving into enrollment for 2020, employers should have taken stock of how the company fared last year. Post-mortem meetings with the enrollment team (along with key internal and external stakeholders) to assess what went well (or didn’t) can ensure the coming enrollment season runs smoothly.

In particular, identify the most time-consuming tasks and discuss how they could be streamlined in the future. Second, determine what questions employees asked the most about last year — and be prepared to answer them again this year. Third, consider whether the company achieved its overall open enrollment goals, and what contributed to those results. By addressing the peaks and pitfalls of last year’s season, HR should have a head start on planning for 2020.

Plan your communications strategy?With a defined approach to open enrollment in place, HR at this point should have developed an organized, well-communicated strategy to keep employees informed about their plan options at enrollment and throughout the year. Have you:

· Defined corporate objectives and how to measure success? · Assessed what messages to share with employees, especially anything that is changing — such as adding or eliminating plans or changing vendors? · Determined what information is best delivered in print (e.g. newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides), online or in person through managers or one-on-one enrollment support? Adopting a multi-channel engagement strategy will ensure key messages reach the intended audience(s).

Make sure employees understand the deadline and process for enrolling — and the implications of missing the enrollment window. They must understand whether their existing coverage will roll over, if they’ll default to a specific plan and/or level of coverage (perhaps different from what they currently have), or end up with no coverage at all.

Take a pro-active approach to open enrollment? Ninety percent of employees report that they roll over their same health plan year over year — though this doesn’t indicate overwhelming plan satisfaction. More typically, it’s because they’re intimidated about what they don’t know, are confused about their choices or just don’t care. Employees don’t have the information they need, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own.

Offering — or even requiring — one-on-one meetings with benefit experts during open enrollment provides a forum for employees to discuss their individual needs and ensure they are selecting the right coverage. These services — often available through brokers or outside engagement firms — provide employees with a safe space to ask specific questions about their health conditions, family history and potential life changes that could affect their insurance needs. This is the ideal time to remind employees that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and that the least expensive plan on paper may not, ultimately, be the most cost-effective plan over time.

Revisit your SPD? The document we all love to hate, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) remain the best source for information about how each plan works, what it covers and the participant’s rights and responsibilities under that plan.

Having an SPD that is current, appealing (or at least not off-putting) and easy to access can answer many employee questions before they find their way to HR. Simple fixes like adding charts, callout boxes or icons can make your SPDs easier to navigate. Many employers are taking it a step further and offering interactive SPDs, which include robust search functionality and links to definitions, important forms, modeling tools and calculators, vendor sites and even short video clips. By making SPDs digital and interactive, employers can provide employees access to important information about their coverage 24/7 via any device. And, by adding a data analytics component, HR can track which sections employees visit most and pinpoint knowledge gaps about their benefit options to enhance understanding and drive increased benefits usage.

Account for all demographics? With all the focus on today’s multigenerational workforce, it’s important to remember that there’s more to “demographics” than age and gender. Worksite (office vs. shop floor vs. construction site vs. road warrior) can have a tremendous impact on the communications channels you use and when you use them.

And while some “generational generalizations” hold true — many older workers prefer paper, and most young people prefer mobile communication channels — it’s more important to look at employee cohorts from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement vs. retiring student debt), different levels of education and healthcare literacy, and experience with choosing and using benefits. Employees just starting their careers are likely to need more support and different information than a more seasoned worker who’s had years of experience with the enrollment process. Consider the most effective ways to engage the different demographics of your population to gain their attention and interest in choosing the right plan for them.

Equip employees for smart healthcare choices year-round? For most employees, becoming an educated healthcare consumer is a work in progress — which is why many employers offer year-round resources to support smart healthcare choices. That said, these resources are often under-utilized because employees don’t know they exist.

Open enrollment is the perfect time to spread the word about these programs and address the key question for employees: “What’s in it for me?” For example, many employers offer transparency services, which enable employees to research the potential cost of care and compare prices across several providers in their area.

Other resources, such as benefits advocates, can answer questions from employees in real time — including where to get care, how to get a second opinion and what the doctor’s instructions really mean. When used in conjunction, transparency and advocacy services can lower out-of-pocket spending for the employee and reduce costs for the employer. Does your open enrollment communications strategy highlight that these resources exist, outline how they work and explain how they benefit the employee?

What if open enrollment is only a week away and you haven’t taken most, if any, of these steps? It’s not too early to start your to-do list for next year — perhaps by first tackling your SPD and drafting that communications plan. Most importantly, get that post-mortem meeting on the schedule now, while the lessons learned from this year’s open enrollment are still fresh.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (3 October 2019) "The Open enrollment checklist: Are you Poised for a successful season" (Web Blog Post) https://www.benefitnews.com/list/the-employers-open-enrollment-checklist


Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference

Many employees associate fear, anxiety or apprehension with open enrollment, the annual period when they select which employer-sponsored benefits they will have the coming year. Read this blog post from SHRM For a few simple tips to help out with this open enrollment season.


Trepidation is what comes to mind for many employees when asked their feelings about open enrollment, the annual period when they select employer-provided benefits for the coming year.

According to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 employees polled earlier this year, 33 percent cited "annoyance" or "dread" as their primary emotions when they thought about open enrollment and just 10 percent of workers said they were "confident" in the benefits choices they made when the enrollment process was over, according to VSP Vision Care's annual Open Talk about Open Enrollment survey.

In another survey, HR software company Namely found that 31 percent of employees give their employer a "C" or lower when it comes to open enrollment.

Here are some tips from benefits experts that will help you raise your grade this open-enrollment season.

What to Do, and Not to Do

Jennifer Benz, national practice leader at benefits communications firm Segal Benz, shared three bad HR practices that undermine open enrollment and three best practices for doing open enrollment the right way.

  • Don't hide vital information from employees. Benz recalls how one company sent out its benefits materials but didn't include monthly costs. "A group of enterprising employees crunched the numbers and came up with estimates and circulated a rogue spreadsheet. Dealing with this communications fiasco took more work" than being upfront about costs, she noted.

Best practice: Be transparent and share the reasons you are making benefits changes. Break down the details and do the work for the employees. Provide scenarios so employees can better understand their options and cost breakdowns for different life situations.

  • Don't cram in every benefit at once. Some companies hand out pages and pages of text, jamming a year's worth of communications into a few weeks, and figure they have done what they need to do. "What they have done is confused their employees," Benz said.

Best practices: Communicate the technical details of your various benefits over time. "Don't assume employees will weed through all your materials to make sense of the benefits offered to them," Benz said. Also make full use of visual aids. "Photos, icons, infographics, memes, charts, graphics and more—they all help to attract, and more importantly hold, people's attention," noted Amber Riley, a communications consultant to Segal Benz. "Whether you're driving an open-enrollment campaign, creating a new benefits guide or promoting a wellness program, when you increase the visual pleasure of what you are communicating, your people are more likely to engage, learn, understand and ultimately take action."

  • Don't give employees too little time to process their open-enrollment choices. While many people wait until the last day to fill out the health care selection forms, they may have been considering their options with family members for weeks, so giving them just a few days to make decisions is not going to be enough.

Best practice: Build in a time frame that gives HR staff and employees the time they need. Benz recommended three weeks.

"People are always talking about learning from the best practices and success stories, but you can also learn a lot from other companies' mistakes," she noted. "When you prepare for enrollment in advance and anticipate issues—including those you and others have experienced in the past—you are better-equipped to avoid missteps. Your employees will notice and appreciate the extra effort."

Help Employees Ace Open Enrollment

"Open enrollment is often time-consuming and confusing for employees, but these choices can make a huge financial impact," said Julie Stich, CEBS, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, an association of benefit plan sponsors. She suggested that HR share the following advice with employees to help prepare them for the upcoming enrollment season:

  • Take your time. Take time to really read through the enrollment materials you receive. If you are invited to a face-to-face meeting, make time to attend. It's possible you'll be offered different plan options and coverages this year. The better you understand the changes, the better decisions you'll make.
  • Look ahead. Consider what the next year will look like for you and your family. Are you planning to have a baby? Knee replacement surgery? A root canal? Does someone need braces? New glasses? Keep this in mind as you look at your coverage options.
  • Dive into the details. It's important to note whether the plans' provider networks have changed. Make sure your doctors are still in-network. Is your chiropractor also covered? Does the plan cover orthodontics? Is your spouse's daily prescription drug covered, and did the coverage change? Also consider areas of need like access to specialists, mental health care, therapies, complementary and alternative medicine, and chronic care. Look at the options offered in all plans, including health, dental, vision and disability.
  • Get out your calculator. Add up the amount you'll need to pay toward your health premium plus deductibles, co-payments (flat-dollar amounts) for prescriptions and doctor office visits, and co-insurance (a percentage of the cost you'll pay) for services. Understand what you'll be asked to pay if you seek care outside your network. This will give you a clearer picture of how much you're likely to spend. The plan that looks to be the cheapest option may not really be the cheapest for you.
  • Determine what's right for you. Consider your comfort level with risk. If you want your family to be covered for every eventuality, a more traditional plan, if one is offered, might be right for you. If you're comfortable taking on some upfront costs, a high-deductible plan with a lower premium ight be your plan of choice.
  • Take advantage of extras. Your employer may offer the option to reduce your health premiums in exchange for your participation in a wellness program or health-risk assessment. It may match some or all of the money you save in your 401(k) plan. It might let you set aside tax-deferred money into a health savings account or flexible spending account. Also, check with your employer to see if it offers voluntary insurance with a group discount and payroll deduction for premiums—like critical-illness, pet, auto and homeowners coverage. If these options work for your situation, sign up.
  • Ask questions. Don't be shy about asking your HR or benefits department to explain something if you're not sure. They're there to help and want you to make the best decisions for your situation.

"Taking the time upfront to carefully choose the best options will help employees better manage their finances throughout the year, alleviating stress and promoting productivity," Stich said.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (24 September 2019) "Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/simple-open-enrollment-tips-make-a-big-difference.aspx