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7 Open Enrollment Mistakes Employees Make

Patrick Ball on October 07, 2014 12:23 PM

Open enrollment, the period when employees adjust and sign up for company-provided benefits packages, can be the best of times and the worst of times for human resources professionals working to help employees understand the various options available to them. 

By considering the most common mistakes your employees make during open enrollment periods, you can be better prepared to provide more education and prevent problems from arising. Not only will your employees be more equipped to make the right decisions, but you’ll also be incentivizing a healthier workplace -- which can save your company money in the long run.

Here, a handful of HR experts offer their insight to help you prepare for the questions and misconceptions ahead of your next employee benefits season.

  1. Ignoring Communications

    MistakeJoining the company's seasonal benefits meeting or webinar might not be at the top of an employee’s to-do list, but skipping out on these information sessions and ignoring emails can hurt them in the long run. Not being informed of the process and options available can lead to hasty decision-making and costly selections.

    Solution: With today's digital technology, companies have a variety of means to grab employees' attention. Besides traditional mailings and face-to-face meetings, Annemarie Fini, senior vice president of Benefitfocus, recommends HR administrators use blogs, social media, texting, message boards, FAQs and video to improve employee engagement in coordinated open enrollment education campaigns. 

  2. Misunderstanding New Health Plans

    Mistake: With many employers adopting new health plans to address rising health care costs -- such as high-deductible plans with Health Savings Accounts -- it’s critical that employees take the time to understand how these plans work. Depending on their family’s health care situation and needs, new options that require additional work up-front could be more cost-effective down the road.

    Solution: Through an online portal, employers can provide an easy way for employees to explore, enroll in and access benefits. “Online portals can provide dynamic and interactive information, such as videos, cost calculators and mobile apps, to help simplify the benefits education process for employees,” says Chris Costello, principal and founder of CBG Benefits

  3. Misunderstanding the Affordable Care Act

    Mistake: There’s a misconception that Obamacare means “free health care.” In reality, the reform has been about access to health care, not cost. Unless an employee is below particular income thresholds, a policy on the marketplace is far from free. Not fully understanding how these new laws work can be costly.

    Solution: Invite a benefits broker into the office to explain the basics of premiums, deductibles and the insurance market. This information will empower your employees with the knowledge they need to make the right health care choices. 

  4. Passive Enrollment 

    MistakeFor many employees -- particularly those who have not changed jobs, gotten married or had a child over the year -- open enrollment is a largely passive experience. Their situation hasn’t changed, so they don’t think about altering their benefits -- rather, they roll over prior selections. The problem with this, however, is that not everything rolls over, including flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

    Solution:Use bulleted lists, bright colors and bolded fonts to highlight information in communications about new options or components that don’t roll over. This will make the information more visible, even to employees skimming through emails. 

  5. Failure to Maximize FSAs

    Mistake: Employees often avoid doing the math to estimate non-covered health expenses from dental to office co-pays and prescription co-pays to eyeglasses. An incomplete understanding of how to maximize flex spending accounts may lead to losing out on valuable tax savings.

    Solution: Explain how your employees can estimate yearly expenses, and how taking this step can save them money over the next year. Have a cost calculator available as a reminder. “Don’t let the work of estimating expenses or the fear of losing any unused balance prevent your employees from maximizing this valuable tool,” says Bruce Clark, CEO of CAI, Inc. 

  6. Not Asking Questions

    Mistake: Many employees have individual concerns about their specific health care needs. But, because they don’t ask, many miss out on options specifically suited for them.

    Solution: Use email and web tools to create and distribute surveys to elicit feedback on the open enrollment process and what type of benefits employees would be interested in. “This information can then be used by employers to adjust their benefits strategy and better align it with employees’ needs,” says Fini. 

    Learn more about retention strategies to keep your top talent 
  7. Underutilization of Wellness Programs

    MistakeMany employees consider wellness programs ancillary, and miss out on the ways the program can lead to a healthier lifestyle, while minimizing care costs.

    SolutionIncentivizing wellness with rewards for participation and success in wellness programs can lead to greater health consciousness among employees -- and lower costs for employers and employees. A few simple resources and incentives, like an online library of health and wellness topics or prizes for completing a health assessment, “can help make significant inroads for increasing employee awareness of their health status how to reduce health risks,” says Fini.  

In helping employees avoid costly mistakes when choosing their benefits package, be sure your strategy it fits with your corporate culture, as that will be the key to successful engagement during benefits season.