As COVID-19 began to spike in the U.S., consumers shifted habits related to their overall health.
With growing concerns over the pandemic, a Further study found that 69% of consumers reported that their health is more important to them today, compared to pre-coronavirus times, and 63% report they are paying more attention to their healthcare benefits. With open enrollment beginning, many employers may find it difficult to fully mobilize their workforces to fully engage in their health care benefits selection as the social distancing and work-from-home challenges of the pandemic have thrown a curveball into many organization’s normal HR presentations, and health and benefit fair plans.
With some early 2020 open enrollment health fairs and open houses already under our belt at Further, we offer the following advice on how to plan for the challenges of a productive open enrollment in the time of COVID.
Challenge one: Educating team members on the complexities of health care
Employees continue to report it difficult to navigate the complex health care industry and find the best care options. If they do not understand the power of their benefits and how to activate them, then they may simply decide that being an active user of their benefits is simply too difficult. In this case, they may not take cost into consideration and instead make choices that are simply the easiest for them to make.
- Now, more than ever, it is critical to take the time to educate all employees on the advantages of your health care benefit and savings plans. And that education can manifest in a variety of means. Read on.
- It’s also important to use plain language that will be meaningful to them and provide definitions to terms that might be unfamiliar.
Challenge two: Provide a safe enrollment process
Open enrollment is happening; one way or another. So, it is important to determine the best means to safely hold open enrollment educational sessions, which are still necessary even though they may be virtual.
- If in-person sessions are deemed critical, they can still can be done but attendance must be limited to a small number of team members at a time. Therefore, in-person meetings tend to be more taxing, and due to the fact that masks must be worn, it makes it more difficult for presenters to “read the room” to determine if there is understanding and engagement occurring.
- Virtual informational sessions as webinars have proven to be successful, even preferred in some regards. Paperwork can be sent in advance to employees’ homes and they allow for a Q&A session that all team members can learn from.
- A key benefit of virtual presentations or webinars is their lifespan! Meaning, webinars and virtual presentation can be recorded so team members can watch them more than once and even share them with at-home partners. For those essential employees who work a shift, say in a manufacturing facility, playing the recording in a loop in the cafeteria not only helps educate team members, it provides an opportunity for those who couldn’t attend in the past, due to their workhours or working offsite, to get vision on the benefit plans at the same time as the other team members.
Challenge three: Presenting information in a variety of formats
There continues to be a need to explain benefits (with consistency in message from team member to team member) during open enrollment and provide an opportunity to answer questions from inquiring team members. This year, we’ve seen additional COVID-inspired issues around come up around dependent care issues (e.g., daycare ) and election windows (which differ from plan to plan) and also issues about returning to work safely. Just as our survey found, health care is on everyone’s mind.
- Bring the information to life though charts, graphs, and videos, and make it available on a dedicated intranet. As stated earlier, most employees will perceive health care as complicated and reading explanatory text alone about the options won’t be enough to convince them otherwise.
- Many employees don’t fully understand the true cost and value of their benefit plans. And for those who are new to high deductible health plans (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) for example, presenting simple financial scenarios about how their benefits play out will help aid in understanding. For example, there are easy ways to chart the financial impact if only preventive care is needed throughout the year and conversely, if the plan’s out-of-pocket maximum is met. It will bring the numbers to life in a way that applies to everyday life.
Challenge four: Bringing engagement numbers up
Unfortunately, in the past engagement statistics throughout open enrollment shows participation from only 6 out of 10 employees is the norm. Of course, the goal is 100% participation. To increase engagement, a simple change is to make attendance mandatory. Other engagement drivers could be:
- If your organization has a wellness program, award points for participation in open enrollment activities. A point could be awarded for a variety of activities throughout the period, all designed to increase understanding and adoption of healthy habits.
- Organize a participation raffle in which team members have a chance to win prizes for attendance, on-time submission of paperwork and healthy habit adoption.
- If in person, be creative in where the HR educational sessions are held. At Further, no space is off limits! We’ve held sessions outdoors for an agricultural company in which hay bales served as chairs, and for a trucking company where the presentations were conveyed through the semi-truck’s on-board computers.
While COVID-19 has brought about significant challenges, especially during open enrollment, it actually opens up an opportunity to have a productive dialogue with employees about their health care and how best to save and spend funds in their employer-sponsored health care benefit plans. Now is the time for employers to keep the discussion going into open enrollment.