The enrollment process for benefit options during open enrollment has been largely automated, with online enrollment platforms replacing paper forms. Now, more employers are looking to improve the online enrollment experience by adding decision support tools and guides to make the process more user-friendly.
“The pandemic was the final chapter for paper enrollments,” said Ralph Labarta, chief technology officer of Tampa, Fla.-based Engage PEO, a professional employer organization that provides human resources services nationwide. The lockdowns physically separated registrants from the resources they normally used during the enrollment process, he noted. Instead, better online tools have emerged to help employees compare and filter benefit selections.
While electronic enrollment is now a mature technology, Labarta added, “improved decision-making tools that help members select products and coverage levels are becoming increasingly important.”
A boon for small businesses
Wesley Mace, Baltimore-based COO of Kelly Benefits, a provider of payroll and benefits administration services, said small businesses, in particular, have benefited from the growth of digital enrollment tools, which have “increased notably the participation of employees” in the registration. process.
“Smaller organizations found [digital enrollment] The tools not only helped distribute information to remote employees, but also increased the productivity of those previously tasked with managing manual enrollments,” agreed Bobbi Kloss. She is director of human capital management services for Benefit Advisors. Network (BAN) based in Cleveland. ), a national network of independent employee benefits brokerage and consulting firms.
Jason McMahon, a Queensland, Australia-based digital strategist at Bambrick, a direct-response digital advertising agency, noted that open enrollment digital platforms can track employee participation in the enrollment process, “showing what might have interested them or resonated with them, and what didn’t.”
These analytics provide employers with “detailed information about employee touchpoints that is simply impossible to find in a printed guide,” McMahon said.
Cut through the complexity
Benefits are complex, and employees have long been overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to make informed decisions, said Chad Wilkins, executive vice president of Webster Bank in Sheboygan, Wis., and head of the company’s HSA Bank division. . One way to help people get the most for their health care dollars, he said, is to provide access to an online calculator that allows employees to compare various health plans, taking into account premium levels and health care expenses. previous or anticipated medical Digital calculators can also factor in employee contributions to a health savings account (HSA) and show the implications of using pre-tax versus after-tax dollars from HSAs to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, he noted. the.
“We discovered that when [employees] use decision support tools and a health care plan calculator, 20 to 30 percent of people will make a different decision about their health plan, potentially saving thousands of dollars based on those decisions,” Wilkins said.
“If the digital enrollment process is made easier, then the process can support a broader inventory of benefits offered,” Labarta said.
Another reason to go and stay digital: Employees are overwhelmingly familiar with the “Amazon experience,” said Casey Hauch, managing director of communication and change management at consultancy WTW. “Amazon knows what I like, what I need to order and what my interests are,” he said, and organizations have the same ability to use data about what plans employees are enrolled in, their coverage levels, who they are covering, etc., to communicate personally through an online communication portal.
This allows employees, Hauch added, “to deliver content that is relevant to them, which increases the likelihood that they will be interested and engaged, and make the optimal benefits decisions for their needs.”
Diversity and Environmental Considerations
Labarta has also seen an increase in requests for enrollment platforms and decision support tools that support multiple languages. “The broader and more inclusive these tools can be, the better,” she said.
Digital tools also have a positive impact from an environmental standpoint, “reducing the need to print benefit enrollment forms and materials that can simply end up in landfills,” Hauch said.
Taking a hybrid approach
“There is an acceleration taking place in terms of leveraging digital tools to reach people wherever they are,” Hauch said.
But digital platforms have value even in physical settings, where they can connect with people who have busy and varied schedules, he said.
That doesn’t mean printing can be eradicated entirely, Hauch added: Manufacturing employees, for example, don’t always have ready access to computers. But she is seeing a trend towards reduction. For example, instead of a 42-page guide, a company could print a postcard with a QR code to send to employees’ homes.
Even in a digital world, Labarta warned, don’t abandon person-to-person support altogether. “Voice, chat and email support combined with scheduled callback options should be available to meet the varied demand preferences of enrollees at critical points in the enrollment process,” she advised.
Some enhanced decision-making tools also include telephone benefits coaches who can be contacted late in the enrollment process to help enrollees finalize their selections, he explained, combining the benefits of high-tech with personalization. high level.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SHRM-SCP, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with a background in human resource consulting.