COVID-19 has certainly disrupted many normal employee interactions including meetings, luncheons, or other team building events as staff work remotely or with varying schedules. Another equally important event that will look different this year is open enrollment.
Job uncertainty and other concerns related to COVID-19 can leave employees unsure of how to handle their benefits. They may have specific questions related to the pandemic or want to evaluate options more than in previous years. Employers should leverage the virtual landscape to offer ample opportunities for education and engagement, building a strong enrollment strategy. Here are some tips for both employers and employees evaluating their benefits options.
Tips for Employers to Jump Start a Successful Enrollment
Plan communications: Make sure to notify employees when open enrollment will take place, and reiterate deadlines when changes are to be made. Multiple communications help employees dealing with much different priorities like childcare or job losses understand the importance of evaluating their needs for this unique time in history.
Answer the Burning Questions: With the pandemic in full swing, there may be voluntary benefits that employees could leverage. Are there different plan options available this year that employees should take advantage of? Are there any major cost adjustments from the prior year? These types of questions should be answered up front in your communications, or even organized into an FAQ that’s distributed to employees, before any education sessions take place.
Leverage virtual enrollment: Even with employees working remotely, it’s important to offer educational sessions for employees to ask specific questions related to plan changes or evaluating plan choices unique to their situation. Offering a virtual open enrollment via Zoom or other video meeting platform allows all employees to learn about benefits from the comfort of their home. Multiple sessions throughout open enrollment may also help more employees attend the session that best fits their schedule. And offering one-on-one sessions with your enrollment point person or team can help empower employees to ask questions confidentially and obtain the information they need to make the most informed decisions.
Tips for Employees as You Evaluate Your Plan and Options
Educate yourself on available resources that may be helpful during COVID-19: Evaluate your employer’s plan for resources such as an Employee Assistance Program, telemedicine, or mental health resources, some which may be free for you to utilize. Many offices are offering virtual visits during the pandemic to ensure health issues are reviewed and discussed, and patients can continue to take needed medications. With job uncertainty, schooling changes, and taking care of elders, the pandemic has taken a toll on many. Employee Assistance Programs can evaluate options for you to seek counseling, childcare assistance, or other critical needs during this time.
It’s also important to evaluate what providers and in-network and out-of-network, as they may change from year to year. Make sure the providers you routinely use are in-network, as out-of-network costs can vary dramatically. Some clinics or hospitals may offer both in- and out- of network services (such as an in-network hospital with out-of-network emergency services), so it’s important to review these thoroughly.
Review voluntary benefits as added coverage: Many employers offer voluntary coverage including dental and vision, with different tiers of coverage, or with just a discount plan. Review the services underneath each tier and what you may utilize within the scope of a year, to ensure this level of coverage is right for you. For example, if you have a child that will need braces, you may want to increase your tier of dental coverage offering orthodontics to help pay for these services. Your employer may offer other important voluntary coverages like life or disability insurance that could pay medical and living expenses for a covered incident. These may be worth the cost depending on your unique family situation.
Consider an HSA/FSA: A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a medical savings account for more high deductible health plans (HDHPs) that allows you to set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified expanses, including deductibles, copayments, and other expenses (not premiums). The goal of an HSA is to help you lower your health costs. A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a special account you can set aside money, also on a pre-tax basis, for certain out-of-pocket expenses. FSAs are not eligible with HDHPs. You generally must use FSA money within a plan year, but some employers can offer a grace period extension. After that period ends, you lose any money left over, so it’s important to plan your expenses carefully.
Spectrum of Services
Keystone’s employee benefits team offers a full spectrum of services for employers to evaluate, build, educate, and manage their group health and ancillary plans in alignment with their operations. Our services include cost containment and enrollment strategies that minimize administrative burden while maximizing an employer’s return on investment.
Agencies seeking a consultative partnership to augment their benefits offerings to clients can contact us by filling out the Join Us form and submitting their interest.