How To Build a Successful Communication Strategy For Open Enrollment
*This is Part 3 of our Open Enrollment blog series, in case you missed it, here’s Part 1 & Part 2.
“If you want something to happen, you have to make people able and you have to make them want to.” – Dr. Steve Kerr (Former Chief Learning Officer of General Electric and Goldman Sachs)
Now that you’ve done your due diligence on your benefits package and applied what you’ve learned from your employees, it’s time to put your preparation into action. Communication is key to making this upcoming open enrollment the MOST successful to date! The what, where, when, and why are all important questions to address when designing your open enrollment communication strategy.
This process requires a streamlined approach to ensure your employees are educated on the rules, the value of their benefits package, and what resources and support are available to them during open enrollment. The goal is to support employees in making the best benefits decisions for themselves and their dependents – the first time. Communication of new benefits, enhancements to current benefits offered, and pertinent changes to the medical plans, are especially significant to include in your employee communications.
Let’s dive into more tips to help you build a successful employee communication strategy for open enrollment success.
1.) Increase Open Enrollment Knowledge and Awareness
In most cases, open enrollment in the public sector requires mandatory participation. That means all employees must actively log in to their enrollment system and elect their benefits each year. This is their once-a-year opportunity to add family members, upgrade coverage, downgrade coverage, select new coverage, and/or waive coverage. Unless they have a Qualified Life Event (QLE), such as marriage, divorce, losing outside coverage, gaining a new dependent, or other QLE, open enrollment is the only time they can elect or change benefits for the plan year.
If an employee forgets or fails to enroll, they and their dependents will have no benefit coverages for that plan year through your organization. Understandably, this could be catastrophic for an employee and their dependents, as well as a difficult situation for the HR/Benefits office staff to manage. As the employer, the goal is to have a cohesive plan in place to eliminate these scenarios.
The first step is to focus on increasing open enrollment knowledge and awareness. Clearly and concisely communicate to your employees the open enrollment rules and the consequences of missing out. It’s also helpful to include information on Qualified Life Events for context. Don’t forget, for some of your employees, this may be their first open enrollment period.
2.) Communicate Basic Benefits-Related Terminology
Taking into consideration that some employees may be new to the benefits process, be sure to provide definitions of basic terms they will encounter during open enrollment and throughout the year as they use their plans accordingly. Here are some of the most common terms used by insurance companies that should be included in your communications and collateral.
- Copay – A fixed amount you pay when obtaining a service or prescription if you are on a PPO plan
- Coinsurance – Your share of the costs after meeting a deductible, usually a percentage
- Deductible – The amount you must pay before your insurance starts paying non-copay plans, or, for particular services such as advanced imaging services, or procedures
- Flexible Spending Account (FSA) – A savings account for a wider range of medical expenses. However, the funds are “use it or lose it” within the plan year. A rollover amount is allowed if the employer chooses to implement one which is limited to $570. The overall contribution limit is $2,850 (for 2022) per year and is non-taxable.
- In-Network – Providers your insurance plan has on contract, to whom you pay a fixed amount. *Your costs are always less when you visit in-network providers vs out-of-network providers.
- Health Savings Account (HSA) – A non-taxable savings account for medical (dental and vision qualify) expenses. The money is taxable if used for anything else, but there’s no tax penalty for withdrawing it after age 65. This is not a use-it-or-lose-it savings account and is allowed for those enrolled in a qualified High Deductible Health Plan.
- Out-of-Network – Providers your insurance plan is not contracted with, to whom you pay more to use
- Out-of-Pocket Maximum – The most you will pay during the plan year for deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. Once you meet your out-of-pocket maximum, covered insurance costs for the remainder of the plan year are paid 100% by the insurance company
- Premium – The amount you pay monthly for insurance, usually, a portion is paid by your employer and the rest comes out of your paycheck
- Preventive Services – Health screenings your insurance will pay for even if you haven’t met your deductible
3.) Encourage Employees to Be Proactive in their Health Care Planning
Accidents and illnesses can happen at any time – and they can be very costly. Employee benefits, especially medical and dental, offer financial protection to employees and their dependents in case they get sick, injured, need medical treatment, or even loss of life. Presenting the average cost of hospital stays, doctor visits, surgeries, etc. in hard dollar figures helps illustrate the true cost of medical treatment without coverage. It reiterates that with the right plan in place, they would be proactively protecting their financial future.
Encourage employees to review their health and that of their dependents so they can approximately project what the year ahead might hold and how their benefit selections can assist. Below are questions to consider:
- Do I or any of my dependents have any pre-existing or chronic health conditions?
- Do I anticipate any major services such as surgeries coming up?
- Do I have enough money in savings to cover my deductible in the case of an emergency hospitalization?
- When was my last hospitalization?
- Is there a current need for any specialists like an allergist or cardiologist?
- Do you or your dependents use regular medications, what is the cost, and will that be affected by any benefit changes?
Beyond taking stock of your health, the next best strategy for selecting benefits is to consider savings vs. flexibility, which is more important to you and your family?
For flexibility: Do you have a favorite primary doctor or hospital? Is location convenience a priority? Does your healthcare plan support your wellness goals?
For financial considerations: How much are your deductible and other out-of-pocket expenses? How much of your premium does your employer cover?
4.) Provide Tailored and Detailed Benefit Education
When employees become overwhelmed or frustrated, they’re more likely to just check boxes and move on. Employees can easily end up with no coverages or coverages that don’t meet their needs, resulting in higher costs for the employee and the organization. There’s a range of experience with benefits in any group so it’s critical to implement a benefit education strategy that supports employees at every level.
Upon launch of open enrollment, hold virtual and in-person informational sessions that go through each benefit offering one by one. Be sure to record the session for later viewing and cover the following.
- What benefits are offered – existing, new, and any enhancements
- What benefits are fully or partially employer-paid
- What benefits are voluntary
- Benefits of tax savings accounts and new contribution limits
- What aspects of your benefits package will save employees money, time, or enhance other benefits
- Wellness program benefits – communicate the value and how to participate
- Virtual benefits – telehealth offerings
- Any additional benefits and carrier tools that can assist in benefits decisions such as cost calculators for services, procedures, and medications.
5.) Take a Multi-Channel Communication Distribution Approach
Whether it’s an open enrollment announcement, a benefits guide or information on the upcoming webinar, do your best to reach your employees everywhere — on every device, through every channel. There is no one form of communication that works well for every person. Consider all the channels of communication and utilize those channels in your communication distribution strategy. Here are some examples of physical and digital channels to consider.
- Benefit Fairs
- Break rooms
- Voice messages
- Portal banner /Alerts
- Messaging communication channels (such as Slack)
6.) Communicate in a Strategic, Thoughtful, and Timely Manner
Communication can be tricky if you don’t understand employee preferences. Too much communication can be seen as inundating, resulting in employees voluntarily “ignoring” or “opting out” of important communication. Too little communication, on the other hand, may create more difficulties than it solves – more employee questions, issues, and potential confusion.
The key is to strike a balance between your forms of communication, your progress, and your audience, and then distribute accordingly.
Daily communication during open enrollment isn’t always necessary, but it should fit your progress. For example, send follow-up communication to those employees who have not completed or not finished their enrollment. The frequency and urgency in tone should increase as the deadline approaches.
Assess your team’s progress along the way. If 50% of your employees have completed their enrollment by day 5, you should focus your efforts on the remaining 50% of employees who have yet to complete their enrollment. 0%. You may want to take the following questions into consideration when preparing future correspondence and support: Are there any common characteristics in this group? Do many of them work in the same department or speak the same language? If you can find common characteristics within the group, you focus your strategy on reaching those people in the place or in the language they commonly share.
Need Help Preparing Your Employees for Open Enrollment Success?
If you’re looking for assistance on how to prepare your employees for open enrollment success or how your benefit plan and practices stack up, let’s chat. Valley Schools partners with Arizona public sector employers on all employee benefit-related matters including benefit administration, benefit programs, budgeting, forecasting, wellness, enrollment support, and more. Contact us today!