By Rhonda P. Marcucci, CPA
The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a permanent mark on the work world. No matter how soon a cure or vaccine is available, the way we work may be forever changed. The remote work environment is expected to be with us for some time, and that brings new complexity and new challenges.
For human resources (HR) and benefits managers, that means annual open enrollment might look very different in the fall of 2020. Happily, there is no need to start from scratch.
Many technology solutions in the market — some of which you may already own — counter the disruption caused by the pandemic and support remote enrollment. These include tools to communicate information, administer the enrollment process, and provide assistance for those who need it.
The following are solutions that can help public-sector employers manage short-term disruptions to their traditional open enrollment process. These same solutions, however, offer value that makes them worthy of adoption for the long term.
Virtual benefits fair
Many employers host benefit fairs in conjunction with open enrollment to educate employees about their health and welfare offerings and to provide carriers and vendors the opportunity
to meet one-on-one with interested employees. Some employers have sought out technology-enabled replacements for the traditional live benefits fair. One relatively new option getting market traction is virtual benefit fairs, which take the concept of carrier booths, presentations, and meeting rooms into an online environment for one-time or ongoing use.
Because this technology is so new, no single provider dominates the market. Most platforms have a similar look and feel, with little user interface differentiation. Most operate with a scheduled “live event” model.
Factors to consider when shopping for a virtual benefits fair platform include security, employer’s responsibility for set-up and implementation, carrier support, real-time interactivity, on-demand capabilities, and provider experience with benefit programs similar in scope to yours.
Decision support tools
As benefits have expanded beyond core medical, and now include an array of voluntary benefits, there is a growing demand for decision support tools to help employees choose and use the benefits that best fit their specific needs and preferences. If you’re interested in adding decision support tools, start by talking to your carrier or benefits administration platform provider to see what they may offer.
A benefits consultant may also assist in identifying solutions to fit your needs and budget. While there is no hard data to substantiate the return on investment of these tools, the consensus among employers is that they add value through heightened employee satisfaction, reduced strain on HR, and the possibility for reduced health care costs for both the employer and the employee.
Multiple studies have shown that offering decision support tools for making health care decisions increases employee engagement and enrollment. Be sure to talk with your provider about data security and consult your legal counsel to determine appropriate (and inappropriate) use of employee information collected from decision support solutions and associated applications.
For organizations still enrolling on paper, a shift to an online enrollment platform may be too big of a change in an environment where live training is not an option. For these employers (and employees who lack the necessary technology to participate in online enrollment), consider engaging an enrollment company to support employees through a call center.
The best services go beyond the basic enrollment function and help with employee engagement, communication, education, and analytics. Think of these providers as an extension of your HR team. Expect enrollment call centers to be offered in conjunction with voluntary benefits. The commissions associated with these benefit offerings typically cover the cost of the service.
Benefits are an essential part of the overall employee experience and contribute to employee well-being. It logically follows, then, that a smooth and satisfactory benefits administration process is critical to your organization’s well-being.
Facilitating open enrollment in an unplanned remote environment presents several challenges. Implementing technology solutions to address those challenges will give you peace of mind that your employees understand their benefit options, are confident in their choices, and have options for assistance. Further, in these times where HR budgets may be under pressure, these same solutions deliver long-term value, so your investment will continue to pay off in a post-pandemic world.
Rhonda P. Marcucci, CPA, is the HR & benefits technology consulting practice leader at Gallagher (www.ajg.com). Gallagher is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).