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Open Enrollment Education: Be Proactive

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Benefits Consultants
Lumity, Inc.

Every year that short window of time opens up when employees are allowed to revisit their benefits. Open enrollment can be an extremely stressful and overwhelming time for everyone involved since it's typically the only time during the year when employees can make changes to their benefits choices. The decisions made during open enrollment can have a significant impact on an individual's life and finances so it's important they are adequately prepared to weigh their options carefully.

If an employee does miss this vital deadline, it can mean losing coverage or being unable to change benefits elections. The ramifications of this for your business include additional administrative burdens and unhappy or unproductive workers. To prevent these issues, it's important to understand what it means when an employee misses open enrollment and how it can affect your business—before it actually happens. Communicating potential consequences to employees will encourage them to take the open enrollment deadline more seriously.

What Am I Legally Required To Do?
Legally, employers are not required to do anything for employees who have missed the open enrollment deadline. In fact, the terms of your benefits plans may prohibit you from doing so. The only exception to these terms is if an employee qualifies for a special enrollment period (SEP). Employees who experience qualifying life-changing events such as getting married, divorced or legally separated, having or adopting a child, or moving to a new residence or work location that affects benefits eligibility, are eligible to enroll in or make changes to their benefits elections outside of the open enrollment period. It's advisable to create simple and comprehensive policies and procedures so you're prepared in the event of a SEP.

If you're an Applicable large Employer (ALEs) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) you might have additional concerns but as long as you offer appropriate coverage you won't be subject to this penalty. The responsibility of enrolling in the coverage lies with your employee, however in order to cover your back it's in your best interest to document any coverage that has been offered. Create a uniform policy that requires employees to sign either an acknowledgment or a waiver of coverage.

How Can I Help Employees with Open Enrollment?
Even though you don’t have any specific legal requirements it is advisable to take an active role during the open enrollment period. Consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Opportunities for education
    Offering adequate benefits education to your employees prior to and during the open enrollment period can help alleviate much of the confusion that they may face. The first step is to provide as much information as possible in many different forms, such as flyers, posters, emails and videos. Additional education can come in the form of personal work site consultations, one-on-one appointments with HR representatives, seminars, webinars and self-paced e-learning modules. Using as many forms of communication as possible will enable you to reach more employees and make the benefits process a less daunting prospect.
  • Asking for feedback
    Every employee has his or her own preferences when it comes to receiving important information. It can be beneficial to ask your employees if they like the way information is being provided to them, if they would prefer information to be distributed in different ways, or if they have any questions that have yet to be answered. Demonstrate that you are willing to set aside time to help answer employee questions and demystify the quagmire of benefits.
  • Make time for employees who missed open enrollment
    If an employee does miss open enrollment they will probably be feeling panicked and unhappy.  The last thing you want at this time is decrease morale even further, so look at different ways of providing support. It is important that you provide opportunities for the employee to meet with HR or to attend informational meetings that discuss options for the following year. Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do regarding the missed deadline unless he or she qualifies for an SEP. The most beneficial ways in which you can help the employee is by offering additional opportunities for education and by asking for feedback regarding the process so that you can work to prevent this from happening again in the future. It's also helpful to direct them to Marketplace information sources to help them gain coverage on their own. Employees are generally required by the Individual Mandate of the ACA to enroll in coverage for themselves or face a penalty; this is another bit of information that employees must know and can make them more involved in open enrollment.

Although many of these suggestions are not legal requirements, it's in your best interest to take these steps in order to protect your business and productivity. Demonstrating to your employees that their needs are important to you will instill high employee morale and you'll be able to ensure your compliance with ACA regulations.

If you have questions or concerns regarding open enrollment or for support in ensuring your open enrollment period is as stress free as possible, contact Lumity to become a benefits partner today.

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