It’s that time of the year again! Open enrollment is often an exciting time for employees, but can be very time consuming for HR professionals. The months leading up to open enrollment tend to be filled with meetings, internal decision points, de-prioritization of other department initiatives and stress. However, this time does not need to be stressful to the point of derailing your objective of a successful roll out. With adequate preparation and a clear vision, your open enrollment can be very successful. You can walk away with the satisfaction of providing the type of benefits your employees rely on to keep their families happy and healthy.
We have compiled a list of best practices based on our experience with guiding a large number of clients through the open enrollment process throughout the years. There are several actions HR professionals can take to prepare in advance of the enrollment window to decrease the number of issues clients commonly experience. Ellen Heu, Seequelle Principal Consultant, explains, “Preparation and advanced planning are critical during this time. By starting early and allocating resources each step of the way, the employee experience will feel seamless.” If you have questions about open enrollment, or would like us to support your initiative, contact us so we can walk you through the options available to you.
Get a Head Start
The most common mistake during the open enrollment period is lack of preparation and adequate planning. Brokers and vendors may not be willing to speak to you until a month or two before your open enrollment window. This can be frustrating for administrators, especially those that are natural planners. However, even in the absence of final vendors, plans and rates, there are several things you can do well in advance.
Gather internal stakeholders to discuss company priorities. What is most important to your organization this year? Employee costs, employer costs, vendor reputation and plan types are important factors to consider. Once priorities are agreed upon, we recommend ranking them in order of importance. It will make your vendor and plan selection clear once all options are presented to you.
Enroll yourself in open enrollment training. Even if you have been through an open enrollment before, systems are upgraded frequently and functionality changes. Most vendors have short refresher trainings that will walk you through the basics of an open enrollment – how to build a new plan, create plan options, update rates and configure a new enrollment. These trainings typically fill up fast, so reserving your spot will ensure that you don’t miss out on very important information!
Determine resource assignments so important tasks are not missed or duplicated. Teamwork is very important during projects with a very short window. Identifying who will be responsible for key deliverables during your open enrollment can prevent important pieces from falling through the cracks and ensure efforts are not being duplicated. It’s never fun to put in hours of work only to find that your colleague did the same thing! Assign resources to manage communication (vendor, internal stakeholder, employee) and resources to the technical components (configuration, testing, publishing the enrollment and troubleshooting technical issues). Schedule internal meetings where all team members come together regularly to discuss status of items in progress and next steps.
Reach out for support early. Open enrollment is a very busy time for clients and support teams alike. Many companies hire a vendor professional services team or a third-party vendor team (like Seequelle!) to assist. Queues fill up quickly so, if you feel as if assistance is needed, reach out as soon as possible. You do not need to have all of the details finalized in order to get the process started and a team assigned. In fact, if you wait until all of the details are finalized, you may find that support teams are already at capacity and cannot provide support or can only commit to limited support. If you are in doubt, reach out now!
Integrate with Ease
It is imperative that you begin data automation discussions right away. If your final vendor selection has been completed, integration discussions should immediately begin. Many clients believe that no action is necessary if they are not switching vendors or plans. This is not true – there are coordination activities that need to occur to ensure that specifications and system functionality have not changed and updates to your existing file is not necessary. If changes are not necessary, vendors often require that regularly scheduled files are paused until open enrollment closes. A specific open enrollment (one time file) can be sent with next year’s elections, then regularly scheduled files can resume. Confirming these details early will help ensure your data integrity remains intact.
If you are moving forward with a new vendor this year, and require an interface, the process takes time. In general, the rule of thumb is 12 weeks from start to finish, though complexity is always a factor. Reach out to your vendor contact and ask them for their interface “specification document” as soon as possible. The specification document can then be provided to your support team or third-party vendor (i.e., Seequelle) for a time and cost estimate. The sooner you begin this process, the more successful you will be in getting your new interface live accurately and on time.
Configure and Test
Once your plan offerings are agreed upon, and your interfaces are in-progress, the heavy lifting begins! This is when you can flex your technical muscle and put your open enrollment training to use. Configuring the system can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to ensure that your set up will produce the correct result.
Ensure there is a test system available to you. Always test your new set up or system changes in a non-production environment. It is never advisable to do this type of work in a production database. If you are unsure of how to access a test database, reach out to your vendor support team to gain access before you begin.
Confirm that all key users are aware that the test system will be in use. Don’t forget to inform your team that you will be testing important functionality in your non-production environment. Its critical that others do not override or manipulate your work while it is in-progress. Open communication is very important during this time so that paths are not crossed, and efforts are not wiped out by a simple communication mistake.
Reference training, admin and implementation guides. Most vendors have a document repository, typically found on their respective support portals. Be sure to do a quick search for benefit guides and keep them handy as you make any system changes. A quick cross reference can help answer questions and provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete your set up. Even seasoned consultants reference implementation guides. They are that useful and important!
Test thoroughly from different perspectives. Testing your own configuration work is vital and very important, but it is highly recommended that others test too. You may be so involved in the work that important details are missed. A second, third or even fourth set of eyes can go far in the testing process. Engage with other administrators and ask them to do a test run and provide you with their feedback. Want to take it a step further? Ask a highly trusted manager and a senior employee to do a quick test run. You will be surprised at what they catch and how valuable their feedback and questions will be!
Migrate carefully. Copying your configuration from a non-production database to production should be done slowly and carefully. Pick a day and time to migrate in which distractions are limited. If you have two computer monitors, bring up your non-production configuration on one monitor while you duplicate your production configuration on the other. Double check your work and hold off on publishing your work, if possible. Ask a trusted colleague to check your work and publish once you agree that the configuration is an exact duplicate.
Consider the Employee Experience
Lack of preparation and insufficient employee communication cause of a number of issues that can be easily avoided. While administrators are busy evaluating vendors and options, employee communication is often de-prioritized in favor of working through logistics. While vendor selection, plan options and rates are at the foundation of a successful open enrollment, don’t forget about the employee experience in advance of your roll out and upon go live! If employees are not tech savvy, and are unaware of what is expected of them, you may be faced with more issues and questions than you anticipate. Here are a few tips to ensure that your employees and admins are set up for success:
- Determine active vs passive enrollment type
- Send a high-level informational communication early (3-4 weeks in advance)
- Schedule in-person or virtual demos for employee who have not used your system for open enrollment before
- Consider a cheat sheet/reference document as a takeaway with information on how to log in, how to navigate to the enrollment, and instructions on how to choose benefit options all the way through to submission
- Assign a dedicated HR administrator as a point of contact for issues or questions
We Can Help
While its certainly possible to conduct open enrollment on your own, we highly recommend relying on experts. If you have been live on your system for a short time, there are a lot of unknowns. That’s where we come in! We do this every year, and we know the common risks and mistakes. We can help you navigate them proactively to save time, money and reduce issues after your open enrollment is published.
If you have questions about open enrollment, contact us and we would be happy to discuss options. We are always here to help!