With Open Enrollment Season Under Way, What Do Employees Need to Know?

Caution - Open Enrollment AheadOctober is a great month for many reasons, but unless you’re a serious health care wonk, open enrollment probably isn’t one of them.

Apple and pumpkin picking, walking amidst multi-colored leaves, the World Series and a multitude of other activities certainly rank higher on my list. But alas, benefit enrollment time is here and employees that fail to examine their options could take a hit in their wallet.

Average annual deductibles have reportedly risen 255 percent in the past decade. And major insurers Aetna and United Healthcare have announced they won’t be participating in some Affordable Care Act exchanges in 2017. It’s enough to leave some employees confused, and others sidestepping benefits conversations altogether.

But when it comes to open enrollment season, ignorance is most definitely not bliss. Faegre Baker Daniels employment benefits attorney Mike MacLean says employers need to do whatever is possible to make their benefits materials user-friendly. Speaking with me on an XpertHR podcast, MacLean notes, “The primary challenge employers face each year is to convince each employee to spend the time necessary to familiarize him or herself with the options that the employer is offering.”

Many employees automatically assume that it’s best simply to stick with the plan they chose for the past year. “The easiest thing in open enrollment is to continue what you did before,” MacLean acknowledges. Sometimes that strategy works, but it’s hardly a sure thing. That’s because changes can happen in many respects, including an altered family situation or the employer reconfiguring the available plan options.

The Indianapolis attorney notes that communication ultimately is key, and he says HR can play a role in the process. According to MacLean, some critical questions to ask include:

  • Are we clear up front about what the changes are in the plan?
  • Are we clear up front about the differences in the options?
  • Are we taking care not to drown our employees in data?

MacLean’s final piece of advice is to encourage employees to think about their personal circumstances to the extent your company can do that in a non-intrusive way. “What’s good for one employee may not be the right benefits option for his or her colleague that’s working next to them,” he says.

If an employee had a problem with a claim or a co-pay didn’t work the way the employee wanted, for instance, that might be a signal that a change might be appropriate. And, MacLean concludes, open enrollment provides the best opportunity for employees to think about such issues.

For more of MacLean’s insights about open enrollment 2017 and common questions he receives, listen to our latest podcast.




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