By Kim Buckey
COVID-19 has upended nearly every aspect of modern life – including open enrollment. Workers have become more focused on their benefits package — and how to use it — than ever before.
The onus is on employers — your clients — to ensure they are communicating their offerings effectively and are prepared to handle an influx of questions. This is difficult in a normal year, but COVID-19 has added the complexity of doing almost, if not all, of it remotely. So what can you do to help employers ensure their employees are educated and engaged about their benefits?
Help create a plan. Most employers know they should communicate their benefits offerings year-round, but many have been unable to devote time or resources to these conversations given the current level of disruption in the workplace.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too late. Starting with their open enrollment goals, work with clients to develop a written, formal benefits communications strategy that will serve as their roadmap throughout the year. COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. By planning who needs to receive what message when - and how - the client can identify what resources they might need. This creates more opportunity for you to help them get more bang for their buck.
Don’t assume workers know anything about benefits — or that what they do know is accurate. In a recent survey of American consumers, 40% of respondents said they taught themselves about health insurance terms and processes, with another 33% saying they turned to family, friends, acquaintances or coworkers for education.
The problem? Online source material may be inaccurate or outdated, and advice from other individuals will be influenced by their own experiences with (and possibly faulty knowledge of) benefits. This is especially true as people turn to the internet to look for insight as to how COVID-19 has changed—or potentially still will change — their needs and coverage for the coming year.
By communicating benefits information year-round, your client has the opportunity to go back to basics and help lay the groundwork for their employees to know how to choose and use their benefits effectively, even during times of disruption. Employees are looking for personal guidance, simple explanations and outside support geared to their situation — especially now that COVID-19 has created new challenges.
Identify partners. You probably have a lot of material on hand that you can tailor to a specific client’s needs. But with so many employees working remotely, being everywhere at once is impossible. Identify some partner firms who have experience working with brokers, who target clients in your market and can offer specific expertise — such as telephonic enrollment support, benefits advocacy and communications. Many firms have creative solutions to address budget concerns; your clients will appreciate a fresh perspective.
Target your audiences. Consider what you want to accomplish. This may not be the year to get every worker to review their benefits package and enroll, to increase enrollment in a particular health plan or to increase participation in a particular program. But your client still has goals they would like to achieve throughout open enrollment.
The key to achieving these goals will be understanding the impact COVID-19 has had on your client’s organization. If your client has had a lot of turnover, or has recently hired a lot of young people, you may need to focus your communications efforts on onboarding and enrollment support. If a large percentage of the workforce hasn’t changed their benefits in years, some education about new plan options—and even active (versus passive) enrollment - may be in order. That’s why creating a communications strategy for your client is so important — you’ll want to help them use their resources wisely.
Meet workers where they are — literally. These days, with fewer workers on site and large groups discouraged, old standbys such as posters and tent cards or group meetings won’t reach employees. Investigate options such as virtual benefits fairs, which provide a wealth of information that employees can engage in — with other members of their families — when and where it suits them. Consider other mobile options such as text messaging, Twitter chats, Facebook pages and other smart device-accessible channels. Americans spend an average of 5 hours a day on their phones — take advantage of that screen time!
Keeping benefits top of mind and making sure workers have the information they need to make educated choices require year-round communications — especially now that COVID-19 has shaken up every aspect of daily life. By creating a plan, bringing in support, targeting your messages and focusing on education, you can help employers increase the return on investment of their benefits investments and improve employee benefits satisfaction.
Kim Buckey is vice president of client services, DirectPath. Kim may be contacted at [email protected].
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