FP’s 5 Questions: Top Tips for HR Teams During Open Enrollment Season

Most employers that manage health plans on an annual basis launch open enrollment in November – which means you’re probably now preparing for the annual influx of questions, benefit changes and related tasks. During the open enrollment period – which typically lasts two to four weeks each year – employees can choose or change their health and wellness benefit choices for themselves and their dependents. This may include health, dental, vision, life insurance, disability insurance, and voluntary benefits (such as pet insurance, gym membership, or identity theft insurance). How can you best prepare for open enrollment season and ensure a smooth process for everyone in your organization? Read on for a Q&A with Jenny Kiesewetter, attorney at Fisher Phillipsmember of the firm’s Benefits and Tax Practice Group, to learn his top tips for HR teams for a successful open enrollment season.

1. What are the key items that should be on the HR open enrollment checklist?

Jenny: While every organization is different and there are many steps to consider, here are the key things HR teams should review before open enrollment:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your current benefits offerings. Do your employees benefit from this advantage? Do they know it’s there? Should this benefit be removed or do employees need more training on it? Are there new benefits solutions that could be better suited to the organization? Do certain benefits not meet your expectations (or those of your employees)? You will need to consider various factors, including cost and market competitiveness.
  • Train your HR team on any new benefits or changes to current benefits. Since your HR team is your first line for all things benefits-related, make sure they are able to help employees with questions or concerns that arise during open enrollment.
  • Review and possibly update your company’s listing technology. Make sure the systems you use can adapt to any changes in benefits or employees, including changes caused by an acquisition or downsizing. Perform some testing with your software before launching open enrollment to give yourself time to identify and resolve any functionality issues.

2. What is the best communications strategy to ensure employees get all the information they need?

Jenny: Open enrollment can often feel stressful – not only for employees who are electing, but also for human resources professionals who must continually balance the changing needs of their workplace with evolving employment laws. For this reason, communication is key during open enrollment season. Here are some best practices when developing your communications strategy:

  • Plan the content and timing of your communications. For example, you may decide to send multiple communications via email, through company portals, or during in-person or online meetings. Be sure to send emails well in advance so employees can take time to process the information or block their calendars for meetings.
  • Make benefits information straightforward and easy to understand. This includes any changes, such as new pricing information. Don’t inundate employees with lengthy benefit descriptions or confusing legalese.
  • Offer open registration training sessions, such as a webinar on Health Savings Accounts (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA).
  • Overcome language barriersensuring your open enrollment communications are accessible and understandable to all employees.
  • Allow employees to ask questions before, during and after the open registration process.
  • Ask Employees for Feedback at the end of open enrollment, allowing you to continually improve the process year after year.

3. How can technology facilitate open enrollment?

Jenny: Technology can help you streamline the open enrollment process by reducing or eliminating paperwork, reducing errors, ensuring accuracy, and integrating and synchronizing data seamlessly. The right system can:

  • Improve communication and access to information for all employees.
  • Enable HR professionals to send reminders, targeted messages, and updates before, during, and after open enrollment.
  • Give employees easy access to a single system to complete the benefits enrollment process, which can potentially increase employee engagement.
  • Allow your HR professionals to focus on high-level employee needs, instead of answering benefits questions on a daily basis.
  • Improve data management and analytics, including improved recordkeeping, data backup and storage, and data analysis on things like benefits utilization.

4. What are the key compliance considerations employers should consider during the open enrollment process?

Jenny: You should consider taking the following steps to monitor your programs for compliance:

  • Review and potentially update your company’s policies, procedures and plan documents. — including your integrated plans, Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD), Summary of Material Changes (SMM), or Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) — for any changes to the plan design. Review these documents not only for benefit changes, but also for any legislative changes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Internal Revenue Code (IRC), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). ), or more recently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA ’21).
  • Confirm that all documents (including employee communications) are updated based on annual plan limits. Keeping your documents up to date is essential to your benefits compliance.
  • Be sure to distribute all required information in a timely manner. These include disclosures you have already distributed, such as your SPD, SBC, Patient Protection Notice, HIPAA Special Registration Rights Notice, and Grandfathered Plan Notice, among others . However, under CAA ’21, other disclosures are being added to this list, including the Notice Regarding Patient Protection Against Surprise Billing and the RxDC Report (which reports annually on your drug benefits on prescription, your drug costs and your healthcare expenses).
  • Document all decision-making processeswhich can help you meet your fiduciary obligations under ERISA.

5. What are some frequently asked questions from employees that HR should be prepared to answer?

Jenny: The questions you receive will of course depend on the benefits you offer as well as your employee population, but here are some FAQs you should be prepared to answer:

  • What choices can I make during open enrollment?
  • Can I make choices for my dependents and/or my spouse or domestic partner?
  • Can part-time employees participate in open enrollment?
  • When will these elections take effect?
  • What if I don’t make a choice?
  • How do I know if my medical providers will accept these health insurance plan options?
  • What is the difference between a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)?
  • What is considered “preventative care”?
  • What are the differences between a premium, a deductible, a co-payment and coinsurance?
  • What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)?
  • Who can contribute to my HSA?
  • How is an HSA different from a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA)?
  • Will I lose my money in my HSA at the end of the year if I don’t use it?
  • What happens if I change my mind after submitting my elections during open registration?
  • I was recently hired and enrolled in the health plan. Do I need to participate in open enrollment?

It’s a great idea to prepare a cheat sheet with the answers to these questions, so your HR team can access and refer to it during the process.

Conclusion

If you have any questions about open enrollment compliance, strategies, or best practices, please do not hesitate to contact your Fisher Phillips attorney, the author of this Insight, or any other attorney at our Benefits and Tax Practice Group. We will continue to provide advice, guidance and updates on employee benefits and other employment law topics, so be sure to be subscribed to Fisher Phillips Insight System to receive the latest information straight to your inbox.


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