Open enrollment season can be stressful for both employees and employers. New research shows employees continue to struggle with health-care literacy, and this struggle can impact their health care and financial choices.
Open enrollment offers employers a prime opportunity to promote benefits offerings, and it gives employees confidence in choosing the health plan and other protections that best fit their individual situations. However, as human resource teams become increasingly resource constrained, they may turn to benefits brokers to develop a customized employee benefits package that meets their workforce’s needs.
Demand for broker assistance has increased in recent years. According to a 2022 report by Optavise, 95% of brokers reported moderate to high need for help with benefits communications. Brokers can strengthen their client relationships by helping increase health-care literacy rates among employees and empowering employees to make smarter health care choices this open enrollment season.
Choosing the right benefits options — particularly health coverage — can be a challenging decision for many people. Several studies show that people routinely pick bad plans for themselves, even choosing options that negatively impact their finances. To help address this, HR teams and benefits brokers should review last year’s successes and failures and brainstorm how to improve this year’s open enrollment.
HR teams and benefits brokers should meet ahead of open enrollment season to evaluate last year’s performance. Were enrollment goals achieved? What feedback, if any, was received from employees before, during and after enrollment? What types of questions did HR teams or call centers receive? What worked well, and where can improvements be made?
Upon conferring on these questions, brokers can then create informative communications strategies that address employee questions and concerns and clarify complex issues. Seventy-two percent of brokers offer a full range of assistance with communication materials, including virtual presentations, in-person support and vendor recommendations. Helping clients understand this year’s planning process and their challenges enables brokers to create a meaningful plan for this year and encourage employees to reevaluate their health plans.
Focus on health-care literacy
Part of the reason Americans struggle with health-care literacy is because too many consumers take a “do-it-yourself” approach to healthcare education. Optavise also found that 34% of respondents had educated themselves about their insurance benefits through online or other resources. Only 30% had learned about health insurance from their employer’s HR team (down from 37% in 2021). And 21% had learned from a third-party benefits educator or other resource provided by their employer, up from 16% last year. Seventy-seven percent of brokers reported seeing high to moderate demand for health care transparency and advocacy support in the past year, an increase of 51% from last year, as employees seek help making better decisions about choosing and using their health coverage.
Employees who understand how to navigate the system (i.e., receiving regular preventive care, choosing in-network providers, comparing costs, etc.) can make more informed care choices that could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on health-care treatments and services to improve their overall well-being. Knowing that health-care literacy can improve physical and financial health, brokers should prepare to work alongside HR teams to help increase their employees’ health literacy levels. Open enrollment can serve as the gateway to start this conversation.
The best way to begin this dialogue is by offering robust support around open enrollment. Offering virtual or in-person one-on-one meetings can provide a confidential, personalized forum for employees (and their family members) to ask questions about their benefits packages. Support tools can include a virtual benefits fair, links to a year-round benefits site housing information, tools and resources about the company’s benefit offerings, and personal enrollment support. Keep in mind that even though open enrollment is the start of the conversation, HR teams must continue the conversation to communicate about benefits year-round to have the greatest impact on their employees.
While employee support around choosing and using plans has taken priority recently, employers are also relying on brokers for help with Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Affordable Care Act compliance and reporting.
Seventy-three percent of brokers are highly relied on by clients to provide compliance services —up from 43% in 2020, according to Optavise. Many of these materials and reports are employee-facing, such as employer shared responsibility reports required by the ACA, summary plan descriptions, or surprise billing notices. By understanding the client’s compliance needs, brokers can assist in drafting compliance materials, so HR teams can focus on a successful open enrollment season.
By keeping these three considerations in mind, everyone is sure to have a successful open enrollment season. These three points help brokers create a seamless, efficient and effective process that will reduce employers’ stress and ensure employees can make the best health-care decisions possible. Health care is a journey. Brokers should collaborate closely with employers to encourage smart, cost-effective decision-making this open enrollment season and more educated employees year-round.
Kim Buckey is vice president of client services at Optavise (formerly DirectPath). She may be contacted at [email protected].