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A Client Guide to Open Enrollment and Employee Communications

A Client Guide to OE

October 3, 2023

As originally published in California Broker Magazine October 2023

Make sure employees are using benefits all year long

Open enrollment is finally upon us! You and your clients have spent months reviewing employee benefits usage and making adjustments to 2024 offerings. Together, you’ve run through your checklists to ensure a robust package of benefits that meet your client’s goals and maximize their available budget. You’ve dotted every I and crossed every T… or have you?

Your clients may feel confident in their understanding of their 2024 offerings and the pros and cons of various ancillary offerings, but can the same be said for their colleagues across the company? Have you and your clients discussed how they will educate employees on their benefits — not just new options? Established offerings may have been forgotten or misunderstood. To ensure that employees are making the most of their carefully curated benefits packages, brokers should remind clients to discuss these four things in their open enrollment communications.

Outline significant changes in coverage or offerings

If a client has changed insurance carriers, they’ll want to take more time than usual to explain the changes and help employees understand when to update their providers and which plans are most analogous to their previous coverage.

Similarly, if your client is introducing new voluntary products like identity theft protection, pet insurance or legal services, they’ll want to spotlight how the benefit works and why employees should opt-in. While many employees are familiar with non-medical benefits like vision and dental, the growing range of voluntary benefits may be unfamiliar or confusing without guidance.

Remind employees to look at all options, not just renew past choices

Employees who have experienced qualifying life events since their hiring — or who are anticipating one in 2024 — should take care to thoroughly review all of their benefits offerings. Often, we overlook things that do not apply to us in the moment. While new employees may have been told about dependent care or life insurance during orientation, a single employee with no dependents likely just nodded and promptly forgot the conversation since it wasn’t applicable to them.

Employers put a great deal of time and effort into developing comprehensive benefits packages that support employees in multiple aspects of their lives. Particularly with long-time employees, it’s worth reminding them of the full scope of benefits offerings available to them.

Explain Medicaid unwinding, which may impact some employees

During the COVID-19 pandemic and Public Health Emergency (PHE), Congress provided increased Medicaid funding to the states, as long as certain conditions were met. One of these conditions was a prohibition against terminating Medicaid enrollees’ coverage while the PHE was in effect.

With the end of the PHE in May 2023, states are now free to begin the process of “unwinding” to determine if there are individuals currently enrolled in Medicaid who no longer qualify, such as those who are now eligible for employer sponsored coverage. Each state sets its own timeline for unwinding, which means there may be employees who are currently enrolled in Medicaid, but who will not be notified of their coverage termination until sometime in 2024.

Losing Medicaid coverage is considered a qualifying life event and triggers a special enrollment period. As a result, if someone enrolled in Medicaid received notice of loss of coverage of Medicaid prior to July 10, 2023, they have 60 days from July 10 to enroll in another plan – Sept. 8, 2023. If someone loses Medicaid coverage on July 10 or after, they have 60 days to enroll in another plan. If employees do not enroll within the time period allotted for the special enrollment period, they will need to wait for the next annual open enrollment period.

Highlight Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

With growing awareness of the importance of mental health, 98% of mid to large U.S companies are offering EAPs — voluntary benefits programs that provide support to employees dealing with personal or life challenges that impact their job performance, health and mental well-being. Despite the ubiquity of EAPs, there are many misconceptions that prevent employees from taking advantage of these programs — employees may fear that information shared with an EAP will be used against them or that these programs are only for people in distress.

EAP services are generally provided by third parties who are prevented by federal law from disclosing information shared by employees with their employers. In order to encourage use of EAPs, employers should take time to educate employees on how such programs work and share examples of ways they support employees.

Reminder: Don’t forget to share materials

Clients are not on their own when it comes to creating their open enrollment communication plans. Brokers have access to a wide variety of white-labeled materials, collateral and tools from vendors. These resources should be shared with clients to simplify the process of explaining benefits options to employees and guide employees in selecting benefit plans that meet their individual needs.

You and your clients have worked hard to provide a curated package of competitive, high-quality options that allow employees to tailor their benefits to their specific needs. To ensure that employees are making the most of their options, make sure your clients have thought through how they will introduce and explain various benefits ahead of open enrollment.

Melissa Schachter is VP of Administration, People & Culture at BenefitMall.

Melissa joined BenefitMall in March 2022 and took responsibility for BenefitMall’s culture and engagement, talent management, performance management, recruiting, employee communications, employee onboarding and training, compensation, benefits, and employee relations.

She earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Melissa holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SHPR) certification from the HR Certification Institute and is a Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).