Open enrollment is the only time of the year when employees can sign up for their employer-sponsored benefit options, drop their existing plans or make changes to their current coverage, unless a qualifying event triggers a special enrollment period during a separate time of the year. Employer-sponsored benefit options include— at a minimum— health insurance, but they may also include other benefits as ancillary or voluntary choices, such as vision, dental, disability, life and even pet insurance! Open enrollment generally runs for two to six weeks, and typically takes place close to the end of the year, with all plans becoming effective on January 1st of the following year.
Qualifying events may include changes in marital status, having or adopting a child, moving to a different zip code, changes in income, changes in citizenship status, losing or gaining health insurance, and more. A full list of qualifying events that may prompt special employment periods may be found at www.healthcare.gov. Special open enrollment periods typically run for up to 60 days, with coverage becoming effective a few weeks after the special enrollment has been completed.
Employees only have a short window to make important benefits decisions for themselves and their dependents— choices that will impact their care for an entire year. Additionally, employers and their benefits providers typically have an even shorter window to process all enrollments for their effective date of January 1st of the coming year. Therefore, it is critical that both employers and employees prepare in advance for open enrollment.
Tips for employers to consider for open enrollment preparation:
- Start early by notifying your employees that open enrollment is approaching. Include important dates such as beginning and end dates of the enrollment period.
- Provide them in advance with all the information they will need to know about the enrollment process and available plans. Highlight any major changes from the previous year’s offerings. This will allow them to start getting familiar with the process and begin evaluating their options and making decisions even before open enrollment starts.
- Understand the details of the available options yourself. It is important that you become a reliable resource for your employees in case they have questions about the process or the benefits that are being offered.
- Make all communication easily accessible and understandable so they may retrieve it as needed and comprehend it without the need of much assistance, if any.
Tips for employees to consider for open enrollment preparation:
- Start early by studying the available coverage options as soon as this information is made available to you. It is important that you fully understand the available choices so you can make an informed decision. Do not be shy about asking questions!
- Analyze your and your family’s necessities. Consider if you were satisfied with the coverage that you selected during the previous enrollment period. Look ahead to evaluate if any events could potentially occur requiring that you select a different type of coverage now (for example, are you planning on having a child or getting married?). Choose the plan that is best suited for your needs!
- Take into account the cost of the benefits package of your interest, making sure that it is affordable to you— consider copays, deductibles, premiums and your current monthly income and expenses. Adjust your coverage to fit your budget, as needed.
- If you are not planning on making any modifications to your selections, still review the details of the coverage you want to renew. Potential changes from the previous year could impact you.
Open enrollment does not necessarily have to be a stressful time for employers or employees. If adequate preparation occurs in advance from all parties, these few weeks can certainly go by smoothly and free of frustration!
Contact us to help you administering your benefits and open enrollment.
Toni Curling, M.Ed., SHRM-CP
Client Service Manager