Tips on Open Enrollment, Employee Benefits Strategies

For most employers, open enrollment season is an uncertain and difficult time, when the challenge of finding the best benefits and health care coverage for their employees seems daunting and expensive.

In this episode of The Workplace, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank is joined by employee benefits expert Vinny Catalano to discuss open enrollment options and developing a communications strategy.

Face the Changes in Advance with a Plan

Often, what makes employers’ hearts skip a couple of beats is the thought of “what is the increase going to be?”

“When we are looking at the unknown of an increase, there are times when I feel like I am walking in with a Superman cape and other times I feel like I am walking in like the grim reaper,” says Catalano, senior vice president of Gallagher Benefit Services. “I am not quite sure which, it depends on the year.”

In the workplace, there are few things more personal than dealing with people’s health, wellness and personal issues. Some organizations are uncomfortable making decisions about what level of benefits employees should receive, says Catalano. There also are decisions concerning the price of the copay, what changes need to be made or updated in the current employee benefits plan, and whether to use a high deductible strategy.

“Change is uncomfortable…especially when you are dealing with personal issues, health benefits—all those types of benefits that employees want that employers want to provide,” says Frank. “In this competitive landscape right now, employers cannot turn a blind eye to the value of benefits.”

Advance planning for the next three to five open enrollments can help employers stay focused on securing the care their employees need. According to a Gallagher employee benefits survey, more than 60% of employers do not have more than a one-year strategy, says Catalano. Developing a strategy for the future can save employers money and time when it comes to selecting benefits and confidently communicating their costs to their employees.

Communicate Changes, Employee Benefits

Communicating the cost of benefits with employees is as important as finding the right health care coverage so that employees can appreciate how much an employer is spending on benefits. Catalano suggests using employee benefits statements to show employees what their annual total reward package is.

And benefits are not just about providing health or dental insurance, Frank adds. Companies are finding ways to stand out in today’s competitive market by structuring benefits to meet other needs, such as hospital indemnity plans, accident insurance, pet insurance, and student loan repayment plans, among others.

“There are so many options of programs that are available that don’t cost the employer a lot, but they work toward building loyalty with their employees,” says Catalano. “Even down to having a dry cleaning service come to pick up dry cleaning at the office or providing healthy meals to employees.”

Employers should consider which plans and benefits fit their needs while factoring in costs and longer-term changes. Preparing for each open enrollment season in advance can help employers stay confident that they are getting the best coverage for their business, Catalano says.

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