7 Ways to Prep Your Employees for Open Enrollment in Health Insurance

The dizzying array of options and acronyms baffle people who are not specialists. Your team depends on HR for guidance.

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By Matt Straz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The next open enrollment period begins on November 15, 2014. This is a busy time for organizations, and an especially busy time for HR departments.

Before the open enrollment season kicks off is the perfect time to plan so employees are better informed, happier and ultimately satisfied with their coverage:

1. Understand the options so they can be clearly explained to employees. There are so many options out there, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The first step is to ensure employees know the difference between HMOs, PPOs, and EPOs.

For instance, HMOs and EPOs provide only in-network care, although with EPOs, sometimes referrals aren't needed to see a specialist. Meanwhile, PPOs cover care both inside and outside the plan's provider network.

It's the job of a good organization to explain the difference between policies, so employees can make an informed choice.

Related: How do I choose the best health insurance provider for a company of 50 employees?

2. Get familiar with private exchanges. Private exchanges are on the rise, so it's time to get employees familiar with their ins and outs.

According to June 2014 research by Accenture, more people will use private exchanges by 2018 than similar exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). An estimated 3 million Americans are already taking part, and by 2018, projections estimate 40 million will be buying on private exchanges .

3. Create an online presence to inform. It's no longer enough to hand out an employee handbook and call it a day. According to an April 2014 study by Guidespark, 50 percent of millennials didn't crack the cover of their employee handbook. Worse, 36 percent had lost this important employment document.

With more millennials than ever before entering the workplace, smart companies have to evolve past a document half of their workers will never read. Instead, utilize intranets, internal websites, and robust HR platforms to provide employees with important information about open enrollment and benefits.

4. Know state requirements. Every state has different requirements, and companies should be cognizant of the unique directives of their state. For instance, California and Vermont mandate employers contribute to employee health coverage or pay a fine.

Related: The Benefits of Cafeteria Plans

5. Get information physically into employee hands when necessary. Plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) need to go directly into an employee's hands. It's not enough to post documents or information internally. Set up a meeting with employees personally, deliver the information and answer relevant questions.

This is a good idea in general. Schedule a meeting about open enrollment where benefits plans are outlined. This meeting can be spiced up with some free lunch to induce employees to actually show up. Not many employees are on top of benefits, but everyone shows up for free food.

6. Get new hires up to speed. Employers are legally required to inform new hires about all of their options when it comes to benefits enrollment. This information should span the range, from how to use the public health exchange to tax credits.

For best results, ensure benefits and enrollment is a key component in any onboarding efforts. Don't forget to put it down on paper, since employees being onboarded can easily become overwhelmed and forget important information.

7. Inform, inform, inform. A 2013 survey by The Olinger Group and The Jellyvision Lab discovered most employees are not as well-informed about their own benefits as HR departments might like to think. In fact, only 29.5 percent knew health plan changes could be made during both open enrollment and after qualifying events.

Benefits information has to be imparted and then followed up to improve the odds employees will retain important information. According to the same survey, 29 percent of employees prefer one-on-one meetings. This won't be possible for every organization, but a more personal touch throughout the process can lead to better understanding and improve enrollment outcomes.

Open enrollment doesn't have to be a stressful time if the company and HR adequately prepare. With a little prep homework, employees can get the best information and truly take advantage of the open enrollment period.

Related: Four Ways to Cut Small Employer Health-Care Costs

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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