What are the Phases of the Open Enrollment Process?
- Lauren Hargrave
- 7 min read
A successful open enrollment season is all about preparation, communication and follow-up. There are many ways to slice and dice the open enrollment process, and we’ve chosen to break it down into three phases: Prep, process, and post-mortem.
We've also created a downloadable open enrollment survival guide that includes additional step-by-step checklists to help you to plan your easiest open enrollment yet.
Prep: What to do 60+ days before
The prep phase includes everything you need to do to prepare your team and your employees to make the necessary selections during open enrollment. It includes: distributing and collecting paperwork, compiling employee demographic data, selecting your benefits offerings and more. And it might begin earlier than you think.
60 days before open enrollment starts: Gather all of the necessary paperwork
Two months before open enrollment begins, you’ll want to collect the necessary demographic data your broker requires before he or she can provide you with market quotes. You’ll want to collect medical questionnaires as well, if you need them. You’ll need employees to complete medical questionnaires if you’re considering alternative funding strategies.
30 days before open enrollment starts: Finalize benefits offerings and make a plan
Thirty days before open enrollment starts, meet with your broker to finalize plan options, funding levels, and develop a strategy for employee education and open enrollment execution. Leverage any materials your broker or the carriers provide and make a plan to create the rest. Lean on your broker’s expertise and enlist their help in answering employee questions.
30 days before open enrollment starts: Begin employee communication and education
Employee communication and education should begin as early as possible. Let them know open enrollment is coming, communicate any changes to plan offerings you want to highlight, especially if you’ve added new benefits that you think will be popular. Communicate important dates like the open and close of open enrollment as well as any communication events you’re hosting like town halls (virtual or in-person), small group Q&A’s, etc.
You’ll want your communication to continue throughout the open enrollment process to ensure employees stay engaged and aware of important details.
Prepare and send out detailed materials outlining options
Providing employees with a detailed benefits packet, both digital and hard copy, gives them a good way to process the information in their own time. Make sure your packet includes all of the necessary information employees need to make the best decisions for themselves including costs, coverage levels, network information, and how the different plans work. Packets should also include all important dates as well as open enrollment checklists so employees know what information they need to submit in order to get covered.
If employees have the option to stay on their current plan, include affirmation forms in the employee packet. Encourage your employees to send these forms back as soon as they decide whether or not they’re staying with their current plan. This can cut down on the work your HR department has to do during active open enrollment and the post-mortem. If employees send these back to you in a timely manner, you a) won’t be chasing after them to make their benefits selection and b) can get a jump start on finalizing their selections with the carriers.
Decide how you’re going to track and submit employee elections to carriers: either digitally or by using a spreadsheet. Using a digital information system might be preferable, if you have access to one, as it can cut down on redundant work and errors. It can also make finalizing carrier paperwork easier. Create internal checklists for staff to keep everyone organized and focused on what needs to be done.
Test to make sure your online enrollment system works
If you’re offering a digital open enrollment experience, test it before open enrollment starts to ensure it works. You want it to perform well (i.e. not crash or take too long to load if there’s a high volume of people accessing the system at the same time) and you want it to be clear what employees need to do.
The process: When open enrollment has begun
The process phase occurs during active open enrollment. If you’ve adequately prepared your employees and staff for open enrollment, hopefully your start date goes off without a hitch. But keep in mind, no matter how many communications you sent, or how detailed they were, employees are still going to have questions and your system might not perform as expected or as it did during testing. Just take it in stride and solve the problems as they arise.
Be available for employee questions
Make sure you have dedicated team members who are available to answer benefits questions as they arise. Your broker can take some of this load off your staff so inquire what services they offer, whether it’s the ability to email or direct chat with him or her. Make sure all questions are answered in a timely manner to encourage employees to stay engaged in the process and make the selections that are best for them.
Collect affirmation forms
If you have employees that are able to stay on the same plan, communicate that, if that is their selection, they should return their affirmation forms as soon as possible. This will help you keep your employee information as up-to-date as possible and cut down on the mountain of paperwork you have to complete during the post-mortem.
One week prior to open enrollment closing: release your last employee education and engagement push
The purpose of this final campaign should be to inform employees that open enrollment is coming to an end and to encourage them to make their elections as soon as possible. You could also include information about what happens if they fail to elect any benefits options during open enrollment.
The post-mortem phase includes everything that must be done once active open enrollment closes. Once open enrollment ends, there are still a few loose ends your team will need to tie up before you can relax into the end of the year.
Send new plan information to your broker
Once open enrollment closes, you will want to verify employee elections, fix any duplications or other errors, and send correct data to your broker. Your broker will then process it and send it to your carriers. You carriers should then begin generating employees’ ID cards.
Help employees with proof of insurance before IDs come in the mail
If ID cards won’t be in employees’ hands prior to plan start date (they should be, but things happen), then send employees information on how to access temporary, digital cards so they can begin using their benefits immediately. Make sure someone from your staff is available to answer employee questions about accessing their benefits in a timely manner.
Check pay stubs to ensure all information is correct
Confirm that the correct premiums and contributions (to HSAs and FSAs) will be deducted appropriately according to the coming year’s pay schedule.
Review the process
Document what worked and what didn’t by surveying staff and employees while the process is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Waiting to do this until you’re in the planning process next year could result in people forgetting key details and suggestions for improvement. Meet with your broker to discuss your findings and suggestions for next year.
Develop a plan for ongoing communication
By continuing the benefits conversation with employees all year-round, you can help them use their benefits in the ways that are most advantageous to them, and thus increase their satisfaction with their choices and the company’s benefits offerings as a whole. Your ongoing employee communication doesn’t have to continue at the same cadence it did leading up to and during open enrollment (and it probably shouldn’t so you make room for other company matters). But dropping the occasional email into their inbox or posting a blog on the company website can provide employees with nice reminders to use the benefits they have.
Download the guide
To get organized and ensure you are communicating with your employees effectively during open enrollment, download our guide to learn best practices and proven strategies to get the most of open enrollment and help your employeess confidently embrace a healthy future.
Get started with Lively
Lively is your partner in all things open enrollment and HSA-related. We don’t just help you and your employees through the open enrollment process, but provide ongoing support as needed throughout the year as well, so participants are getting the most they can out of their HSA. If you’re looking to offer this type of benefit to your employees, reach out today!
Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.