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Benefit counselor strategies for 2020 open enrollment

By Mike Ehrle, Practice Leader — Alight Benefits Guidance

Communicate plan options and support employees when they need it most with licensed benefit counselor strategies.

Every year, employers take the time to assess and plan for their upcoming open enrollment strategy. From discussing budgets and selecting carriers to building networks and evaluating employee contributions, there is much to consider in the planning process. What organizations may not realize is that on top of the logistical preparations, they still must consider how to communicate, educate and enroll employees in their desired benefit plans, a task that can be tricky—especially during a pandemic. 

As COVID-19 monopolizes the news, employees face enormous uncertainty due to unprecedented unemployment data and the ongoing threat of furloughs. For approximately 2/3 of the American workforce, this discord is simultaneously occurring while most are now working from home, leaving employees feeling more vulnerable and scared.1

2020 open enrollment will look different

For any employer, broker, carrier, partner or employee, this year is critical. Whether you are a CEO or an entry-level employee, you are likely wondering about your benefits (or should be.) All eyes are on this year’s open enrollment decisions and the subsequent 2021/2022 claim submissions, along with the latest medical trends. And with so many new uncertainties to consider in today’s healthcare landscape, benefits plan selections have arguably never mattered more than they do now. The problem is that employees do not invest the time nor exactly understand which plans to select.

On average, Americans spend 18 minutes doing two things: 1) selecting a show on Netflix,1 and 2) selecting employer-offered benefits for the next year.2 Only 18 minutes are spent selecting something that will likely only impact an employee’s life for the next hour versus something that will impact it for the next 365 days. While benefits selections are not the most interesting of topics, employee benefits choices can have lasting impacts beyond 365 days. How do we get employees to take their selections more seriously (or spend a little more than 18 minutes on choosing them?)

The advantage of benefit counselor solutions

One way to help communicate key messages to employees and help them understand their plan options is through a benefit counselor communication model. By utilizing a licensed benefit counselor strategy, you can communicate and support employees when they need it most. Think of the impact a personal, one-on-one meeting could bring to your workforce in 2020. Employees can ask questions, learn about how their benefits work and enroll in plans that are right for them. In fact, many employers have seen dramatic medical plan shifts by simply helping employees understand the plans.

There are five key drivers that many organizations do not consider when they think of high-touch support solutions. Luckily, with benefit counselor sessions, many organizations can utilize this opportunity to:

  • Increase engagement with employees. Consider if you had 30 minutes to spend with each of your employees. What would you want them to know about their benefit programs? Those 30 minutes could be used to provide company-wide updates, deliver key messages and reassure the employee that they’re being looked after. Benefit counselors can help communicate employer-required and company-led messaging to employees that would typically be difficult to convey at the individual level, increasing understanding and overall engagement.
  • Mitigate employer risk. Although employers are aware of their employees’ general confusion toward using or enrolling in benefits, they are not comfortable providing advice nor are legally able to know details regarding an employee’s plan or health/financial situations. A licensed counselor does not have that limitation. Should the employee choose, a counselor can listen to an employees’ health and financial concerns and provide suitable recommendations based on his/her situation. This independent conversation removes risk from the employer and adds comfort to the employee, building trust and value around the organization that offered the service.
  • Provide an exceptional enrollment experience. While we heavily rely on technology and use it to solve many things, technology itself is not always the all-encompassing solution. Employees often are looking for support, advice and clarification. The only true situation where those needs are fully met are with a licensed benefits counselor, whether in-person or over the phone. This does not mean that organizations should not focus on technology, it simply means striking the right balance with your workforce. Consider a multi-point approach (i.e.: linear enrollment engine or decision-support flow along with access to a licensed benefits counselor) to meet your employees’ needs and optimize your overall strategy.
  • Let medical do the talking. According to a recent health insurance survey, only 4% of Americans can define what copay, co-insurance, medical out-of-pocket costs and deductibles mean.4 That 4% includes everyone in the healthcare system, meaning all Americans (across industries) do not understand the basics of their healthcare coverage. Counselor services can transform the most critical components of their benefits plan—their medical options—and make them easier to understand, leading to smarter decisions. Make no mistake, supplemental health product education has a seat at the table, but that’s not what drives employees’ interest and/or their greatest needs.
  • Instill confidence in your employees. Employees and their families are still confused by their health and wealth decisions each year, or don’t spend enough time to consider their options and how they can work for them. According to Robert Half, 73% of workers consider health and wellness offerings when choosing a job.5 They need help and guidance when evaluating their options. Speaking with a licensed counselor solves that problem and instills confidence in your employees on an individual level.

Bringing it all together

The importance of these factors has only been heightened as we live through the impacts of COVID-19. Many of our decisions and overall concern for our health have shifted, creating an increased need for employees to receive individual guidance and suggestions for making the best benefits decisions. One-on-one counseling sessions provide the unique opportunity to cover exactly what your organization offers and is doing for each employee. While it is about the benefits decisions your people need to make, it’s also about communicating and reaching your employees on a level unlike ever before.

So, where do organizations start?

Find a trusted firm that provides an expert team of licensed counselors and variety of communication tactics to meet your workforce needs. Acting as an extension of an employer’s HR team, a counselor solution can drive the results you want while giving your employees the support they need. With personalized counselor solutions, organizations can expect 98%+ of their employees to be more informed about their benefits and have clarity on the direction of their company’s benefit strategy. 2020 has been a tough year on most; reinvigorating your upcoming enrollment strategy with benefit counselor solutions allows your employees to feel confident and in control again, leading to an effective, optimized enrollment experience for all.

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