Surviving Open Enrollment in a Pandemic

Sep 10, 2020

COVID-19 derailed many business best practices, and open enrollment is no exception. The old face-to-face model just won’t cut it this year — or possibly ever again.

Yes, change to last year’s protocol is essential, but the idea of taking on more seems borderline impossible for businesses today. Keeping the following tips at hand will not only help you succeed; they will also lead to the realization that you can’t afford not to act.

HR Departments are extremely overwhelmed, not only with their regular work load but also managing COVID claims, shifting between remote and on-site workforces, navigating furloughs & layoffs and creating safe work environments. This creates a lot of anxiety for employers and employees alike; now add open enrollment season onto that.

For your own sanity, acknowledge the struggle. This is going to be tough. But change management is not unfamiliar territory, and this struggle will make us better humans and corporations. Also, now is the time to embrace that using technology for remote access to communication is no longer optional. Doing so will improve your communications and alleviate some stress on your HR staff--both by eliminating manual work and reducing employee questions to personnel. Additionally, introverted and more private employees who are hesitant to raise questions in person will have access to answers.

A change in employee communication strategy should be top-of-mind as it relates to benefits and open enrollment specifically. Getting information out and successfully educating our staff without losing personal touch is incredibly difficult.

Start thinking about your communications strategy NOW. The year is only going to get busier. If you anticipate bad news around a price increase, get ahead of it and share sooner rather than later. Since you have to change your strategy anyway, get creative with your approach. Make sure your message is consistent, but use multiple delivery methods to meet all your employees' needs. Consider texts, email blasts, webinars, videos, maybe even phone calls...

You might consider surveying employees to ask how they would like their OE information and what benefits are important to them. As you follow the call to be more technological, recognize that some employees might not have Internet, computers or mobile devices. Whatever method you use, make sure the message is easy to understand. Write at a third to fifth-grade level. Eliminate jargon and define acronyms. Make it approachable or even fun, and remember that open enrollment is not the only time you can communicate your benefits.

COVID is affecting the costs of benefit plans as we budget for 2021. When hospitals shut down elective and outpatient procedures, related plan claims went down. As the state began reopening, those procedures started to increase and are anticipated to spike before the end of the year. Eventually those will level back off to a "normal" rate. Additionally, carriers are hinting that there will be a slight increase to premiums because of COVID. What has yet to be determined is if we will see an increase to general costs of care because of COVID risks or because of the loss of income stream they saw during the stay at home mandate.

Work from home life has led to more sedentary lifestyles, poor self care, many mental health challenges and other unhealthy behaviors. Additionally, many people are putting off preventive and regulatory care due to fear of germ exposure. All of these things could result in a future spike in claims.

Voluntary benefits are a great way to help your employees deal with financial wellbeing.  As many employers are facing reduce hours, layoffs or furloughs, navigating the continuation of benefits for employees has been stressful. A welcome realization is that most Voluntary Benefits, like life insurance, are portable.

Additionally, some of the voluntary benefit providers are looking at expanding coverages. Some will include COVID testing in their wellness payback benefit, and some are also looking at covering COVID as a Critical Illness. Hospital Indemnity is rising in popularity. Consider adding this voluntary benefit to connect employees with cash to pay for their out-of-pocket, hospital-related expenses.


This post is part of New World, New Strategy – a blog series to help your organization persist and thrive.  Check out the other posts here:

The Real Cost of Pandemic Fatigue
Surviving in Open Enrollment Pandemic
Remote Employees: Cyber Nightmares or Warriors?
End the Fire Drill and Move Your Organization Forward
Stop Buying Insurance by the Old Rules – "Best Practices" Aren't Helping You Now
To Return or Not Return to Work?