Going Virtual for Open Enrollment

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only disrupted the way Americans live and work, it has affected the way they think about their employee benefit packages. In the midst of the global health crisis, it is more important than ever for workers to understand their rights to benefits and select the best benefit package for themselves and their families.

The global health crisis has placed challenges on employers to find new ways of conducting open enrollment, including the delivery of open enrollment materials to employees who are working remotely, and communicating necessary information in light of social distancing rules.

The rules established by the Department of Labor on whether an employer can deliver communications regarding employee benefits electronically are complex. This means that many employers are not able to simply e-mail or post enrollment materials online, and that distributing a paper copy of the open enrollment guide is still required. They should also be mindful that required notices must be included with the materials, and that employees at home may not have access to the equipment needed to submit documents electronically.

Here are some tips on how employers can prepare and plan for a successful virtual open enrollment this year:

Plan Ahead
Reflect on the past year and build your informational materials around what your employees are most concerned about, including the impact of COVID-19 on their health insurance needs. Discuss benefits that might be most useful during the pandemic, including telehealth, mental health services and coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Consider a Virtual Benefits Fair
A virtual benefits seminar on a platform such as Zoom or Webex can allow employees to view presentations explaining benefit options and changes, hear professionals explain the open enrollment process and pose questions to the benefits team. Employers may also host breakout sessions through virtual breakout rooms to better address an employee’s individual needs. It is important for employees to be notified well in advance on how and when to attend the online open enrollment fair, as well as to receive a check-list of materials they will need to participate.

Provide Ongoing Support
Employees who are working from home should have access to enrollment help and guidance on an as-needed basis. Employers should make it possible for employees to text, call or email them for help. They may also consider using a calendar tool where employees can book times with staff members to discuss their concerns and ask questions in a more personal way. It is also beneficial to communicate regularly with employees through an employee benefits newsletter or regularly scheduled virtual meetings aimed at helping them understand and use their benefits. An open enrollment FAQ sheet may also deliver information effectively by addressing employees’ top concerns.

Overall, both employers and employees should start planning now for this year’s open enrollment session. Employers should invest in the technology and support tools needed to go virtual, and employees should take advantage of the resources available to help them make the best health coverage choices for themselves and their families.

Pacific Federal is a Zenith American Solutions company and subsidiary of Harbour Benefit Holdings, Inc.