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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Price

Open Enrollment: Everything Everywhere All at Once

So, a week or so after I presented at DisruptHR DC in Arlington, VA, someone reached out to me to connect LinkedIn. We chatted on the phone, and she asked me if I would be interested in presenting at DisruptHR in Baltimore on October 19, 2023. Heck yeah, sign me up! So, the event was last night. I can either invoke John Steinbeck’s famous line, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray….” or I can go with the logical thought that crossed my mind about 6am that day…I didn’t solve the NY Times Connections puzzle, so something is going to go wrong. Whichever of these paths I choose, something went amiss with my PowerPoint presentation.

DisruptHR is pretty much what it sounds like. A bunch of HR folks and those who work in related fields talk about edgy topics or new angles on standard approaches. Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, the presentation has a prescribed format:

  • Exactly 20 slides.

  • Exactly 15 seconds per slide.

  • Exactly 5 minutes total.

It’s maddening and fun at the same time.

Because I love benefits and it’s the fall, my presentation “Open Enrollment: Everything Everywhere All at Once” seemed appropriate. It ended up being fitting for the chaos I felt while presenting. A huge thank you to the emcee, Julie, who said “Are the slides off?” I nodded and kept going because the show must go on, right? The audience in the crowded patio at James Joyce tavern cheered as I “sped presented”, a lesser known version of speed dating. It’s a good thing I’m a New Yorker and can speak quickly.

So, I’m using this platform (with my handful of followers) to share the slides in order and my talking points. Thank you for indulging me.

Remember, 15 seconds per slide.

I’m a benefits geek so Open Enrollment (“OE”) takes top billing. To be fair to retirement plans, I really like 401(k) Audits too, but that’s for a different DisruptHR.

OE planning is a 4-5 month process starting with initial renewal discussions, cost modeling, looking a trends and benchmarking, and preparing employee educations and premiums.

There’s a big focus on setting up systems. Ensuring everything is in place for current, new, and sunsetted plans. Checking vacation accrual logic for carryovers and forfeitures.

It’s the last day and first day of school without a summer break or even an overlap of the two years. For a period of time, you’re managing two sets of plans. Talk about “everything everywhere all at once.”

OE planning is most certainly the storm before the calm of the actual open enrollment window. It’s a flurry of negotiations, looking at budgets, testing systems. And, then…

OE itself is a piece of cake. OK not really, but by comparison once OE starts, it takes on a life of its own and operates on cruise control. The heavy lifting is done…. until after OE ends.

When I think about benefits, there are three key areas and Open enrollment touches on all of them.

• Compliance

• Employee Focus/Education

• Analysis and Decision making

COMPLIANCE. IS. MY. GUIDING. STAR. As it pertains to OE, ask:

• Are the updated plan documents available for employees?

• Are new regulations applied and incorporated into communications?

• Have we sent out all the required annual notices?

Compliant administration of benefit plans is crucial to managing and mitigating risk. The cost for non-compliance can be high. Knowing the rules and making sound decisions limits exposure and saves time down the road. (I shouldn’t play favorites, but this is one of my two my favorite slides).

For employers, benefits are significant budget item. We’re now seeing the impact of delayed care during COVID materially impacting benefit costs. This makes for some tough leadership decisions and messaging to employees.

When talking to employees about benefits, go beyond deductibles, copays, and the specifics. It’s a great time to impart the value of benefits as part of total compensation.

Employees have a lot to consider when making benefit elections, especially when a company introduces new benefits. Do I stay on the PPO plan or do I try the HDHP. Should I enroll for the new Supplemental Health Plan offerings? What about the FSA?

As HR, we can’t tell employee what to do. But we can:

• Answer their questions.

• Describe the options.

• Explain different scenarios to give broader context.

When it comes time to enroll, employees should have a sense of

• Their specific or unique benefit needs.

• Their comfort with risk as it pertains the financial implications of their decision--spending money in premiums or at the time of service.

After OE ends, there’s a lot of information to unravel.

• Audit enrollment elections.

• Know which reports you need to run and when.

• Some reports can’t capture the specific information you need if you run them too late.

Consider if an individual’s elections make sense. Did they fill out a domestic partner affidavit but not enroll their DP for coverage. Did they mean to drop their toddler from dental but not their spouse or 6 year-old. (This is my other favorite slide)

There are a lot of balls in the air, so be kind to yourself if not everything goes as planned. Chances are there is time to correct issues before the start of the new plan year or the first pay cycle.

On that note, audit the first payroll to check new premiums and spot check a handful employees who made changes to make sure they are reflected in payroll. Send a reminder to employees. (I wanted to include to always check the C-suite and your boss, but there wasn’t enough time)

Reminders aside, I’ll bet each of you $5 that an employee or two (or seven) will reach out in two months because their benefits/deductions aren’t correct or my favorite, they forgot to enroll. Unfortunately, they are often out of luck.

OE is done. It’s the new plan year. You’ve documented best practices and tips. You have that all tucked away and before you know it, it’s time to start the process all over again.

Thank you to the organizers of DisruptHR Baltimore. It was a fantastic event, cool venue, an amazing line-up of speakers, and wonderful supportive audience.

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