Open Enrollment (OE) is the period of time each year when employees may make changes to their elected benefits. They can also purchase health insurance or supplemental health insurance to the coverage they already have via the online state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, established through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.¹
Benefits are important to both employers and employees alike, and thus, so is Open Enrollment. In fact:
- 63% of employees and job seekers ranked benefits as a top factor in their search – second only to salary.²
- 95% of small business owners said they would not be tempted to stop offering coverage to their workers, despite the repeal (effective 2019) of the federal tax penalty for people without health insurance.³
As the end of the fourth quarter approaches, it can be overwhelming as a business owner to navigate the different requirements, timelines, and benefits options of Open Enrollment without HR expertise. Employers must make sure to review their current benefits offerings and decide what changes, if any, need to be made in time for Open Enrollment. It’s also critical for employers to guide and educate employees with frequent, clear and accurate communication.
For 2020, Open Enrollment runs November 1st through December 15th, 2019, with coverage beginning January 1st, 2020. However, some states may elect to extend the deadline and individuals may qualify to make changes to their coverage at other times of the year when they qualify for a Special Enrollment Period like a change in marital status, residence, or loss of job.⁴
A Special Enrollment Period can occur any time of the year depending on personal changes that may occur for an employee. Typically, application for benefits changes can be submitted for events occurring in the past 60 days.
While you assess the benefits options best for both your business and your employees, consider the following tips to ensure you’re staying on track throughout Open Enrollment.
- Survey Your Employees
- Educate Yourself
- Brush Up on the ACA
- Bring in an Outside Expert
- Communicate (x3)
- Recognize Online Open Enrollment
1. Survey Your Employees About Their Benefits Needs
Regularly seeking feedback from your employees about their satisfaction with current benefits, needs and wants is key to offering a successful package. Depending on the size of your organization, you can gather feedback in person, administer a simple online survey via SurveyMonkey or similar provider, or utilize online communication tools from your benefits provider. Consider making adjustments to your benefits based on the feedback you receive.
2. Educate Yourself on Growing Trends and Your Competitors’ Benefits Packages
Utilize OE-related articles and research available from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), and tap into the expertise of your current benefits provider (be it an agent, broker, consultant, Professional Employer Organization (PEO), or Administrative Services Organization (ASO)) for guidance and recommendation on where you’re on track, and where you need to respond to growing need. Research what the big players in your industry are providing (many large corporations publish their benefits publicly online) and get creative about how you can measure up, or offer attractive alternatives as a small to midsize employer.
3. Brush Up on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Be Sure Your Business is in Compliance
While small employers (defined by the ACA and IRS as less than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTEs employees)) are not required to provide health insurance to their employees under the ACA, many are choosing to do so through private insurance providers or through the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) program.
A growing number of small to midsize businesses are also seeking benefits via a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), which can offer access to options typically available only to large employers. More than 175,000 small and mid-size businesses currently use a PEO and the number of employees represented by the PEO industry matches that of Walmart (U.S.), Amazon, IBM, FedEx, Starbucks, AT&T, Wells Fargo, Apple and Google combined. ⁶
Remember: once your organization goes over 50 employees, you are subject to ACA rules for Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) and there are additional specific guidelines for businesses up to 100 employees. Larger employer rules also apply for small and midsize businesses use PEOs. Reference the IRS.gov and Healthcare.gov websites for more detailed information, and consult with a licensed professional to be sure you are in full compliance.
4. Consider Bringing in an Outside Expert to Help Guide the OE Process for You
Whether it’s an independent consultant you bring in just to help you through the OE period, or a representative from your current benefits provider that is available throughout the year, look to an expert to help your employees understand what may be changing in their package and how they’ll be personally impacted if they elect to make a change. They may also be able to purchase or supplement coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, and will likely need guidance in completing that step.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Develop a communications plan to get the word out effectively about OE, and encourage your employees to ask questions and elect to make changes sooner rather than later. Use a creative, layered approach that reaches employees often and through different formats, combining email, print, text and in-person meetings (try an informal OE breakfast break or pizza party).
6. Recognize Online Open Enrollment is Key
Your employees are growing increasingly accustomed to managing most aspects of their life online. They’re consumers both outside and inside the workplace. Online enrollment helps streamline this process for employer and employee alike, minimizing errors, and providing added layers of communication that will help boost benefits utilization in the future.
The Open Enrollment Period for 2020 is November 1st through December 15th, with plans sold during the OE period beginning January 1st. Be sure to check if your state offers extensions beyond the December 15th deadline. California, Colorado and D.C. have all passed permanent legislation to extend their OE period. Other states offer extended periods year to year.
As a business owner, you juggle enough responsibilities. Open enrollment doesn’t need to be one of them. Take a look at the 10 HR Tasks You Can Safely Take Off Your Team’s To-Do List, including benefits administration.