Friday, August 10, 2012

Due to health reform, open enrollment planning more complex for employers

With annual open enrollment for 2013 rapidly approaching for most employers, Mercer, a benefits consultant, has created a checklist to help employers with their open enrollment planning, a task made even more difficult by health reform. "Health care reform has made open enrollment planning even more complex and daunting for plan sponsors," says Rich VanThournout, Health & Benefits business leader, Mercer’s Outsourcing business. This checklist can help “organize and prioritize key initiatives” to make this open enrollment season a successful one for employers, participants, and their vendors, alike, suggests VanThournout.
"Best-in-class health benefit strategies place a very strong emphasis on flawless implementation and administration, especially during the critical open enrollment season," adds Stephen Kreuger, Partner, Mercer’s Health & Benefits business. “Even with the impact of health reform top of mind, Kreuger suggests, Mercer’s checklist brings into focus the broader array of issues and ideas that plan sponsors need to consider well in advance of engaging participants in their health programs.”
Checklist. For employers with health plans, Mercer recommends considering the following factors:
  • Use open enrollment to reinforce the value of your health and benefits program—Employees clearly appreciate their employer-sponsored benefits; 79 percent of respondents say their benefits are one of the primary reasons they work where they do, and 91 percent say that getting health benefits through work is just as important as getting a salary. Open enrollment is also a great opportunity to promote the tools and educational materials that help employees make better enrollment decisions, Mercer suggests.
  • Understand the implications and scenarios of health care reform—Even before the recent Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care reform law, more than one-third (36%) of employees expected employers to change health plan benefits due to health care reform, more than double the level reported one year earlier. It is important that employers work with consultants, administrators and other stakeholders now in order to finalize all the requirements to be in compliance and allow enough time to implement and communicate plan changes.
  • Leverage online/electronic communications—90 percent of employees of Mercer’s health and benefits administration clients enrolled online during the 2012 open enrollment period. In light of the fact that employees are receptive to receiving information online, employers consider, too, the cost savings of e-delivery of open enrollment materials. Other electronic communications, such as personalized emails, micro-sites and text messages, also have proven to be both popular and effective at driving informed employee enrollment behaviors.
  • Consider adding a wellness program - Employees are increasingly appreciative of, and engaged with, wellness programs. Of the 61 percent who report that their company offers such benefits, 30 percent say they take advantage of these benefits "a great deal"a number that is up significantly from 23 percent in 2010. These programs provide effective forums to drive employee appreciation of, and adoption of, healthy behaviors, which improves both employee engagement and the bottom line, Mercer points out.
  • Move ahead of the crowd—The vast majority of Mercer Outsourcing’s health and benefits administration clients have their open enrollment windows start and/or end between the last week of October and the first two weeks of November. Employers should consider, when offering their open enrollment windows, to allow ample time for critical post-enrollment deliverables such as ID cards and targeted communication and education, particularly as related to health care reform.
With many U.S. health plan sponsors currently developing their strategies and tactics for the roll-out of their 2013 health benefit programs, the Mercer checklist can help ensure an efficient and effective open enrollment season. The checklist is based on Mercer’s experience and on key findings from the 2011 Mercer Workplace Survey, an annual study of employees who participate in their employer’s company-sponsored health plan.


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