HR Benefits Strategies For 2023

Now that open enrollment is behind most employers, HR teams can take a bit of a breather before the spring brings a new cycle of benefits planning. But that doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing! HR teams can take the following important steps to ensure their employees are making the most of their 2023 elections, and that they make the right decisions for 2024.

First, Communicate

Employee health literacy remains at disturbing low levels. According to a consumer survey by Optavise, 33% of consumers want to know how their deductible, copay or coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum (OOPM) work and what these factors mean for their wallet. Additional key survey highlights:

  • 39% want to know how to avoid surprise medical bills
  • 29% want to know how to research healthcare costs and why it matters,
  • 22% want to know how to choose where to get care

Having a solid communication plan helps to educate employees and to ensure employees know how to effectively use the plans to make more informed, cost-effective decisions. Since employees use their benefits year-round, conversations about those benefits should also be happening year-round. Key areas of a communications plan typically include education of healthcare basics, promotion of existing plans, and education of the available resources.

Now is a great time to revisit basic terms and concepts and to remind employees of the low (or no) cost care options available to them throughout the year, including preventive care, employee assistance programs, and onsite clinics (where available).

While a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 23% of employees who left their jobs in 2021 cited poor benefits as a reason for looking for new opportunities, it’s likely that employee perception of “poor benefits” may be a knowledge issue. Benefits are now influencing retention and hiring like never before. It’s critical to promote the depth and breadth of your program offering, as well as the resources available to help employees use those programs effectively.

Tools and resources, including cost estimators and benefits advocates can provide the information employees and their families seek while demonstrating the value of shopping for care by identifying meaningful savings opportunities.

Listen to Employee Feedback

Remember, communication is a two-way street. That means listening to employee concerns about their benefit plans. Questions you might want to consider: are your current offerings meeting their needs? Are employees asking for benefits or programs you don’t currently offer—or DO offer, but your employees are somehow unaware? What are your employees still confused about?

Feedback may be direct (focus groups, surveys, emails to HR) or indirect (calls to customer service, questions to benefits advocates, low program utilization, administrative issues due to paperwork errors, etc.). A careful analysis will show what benefit strategy tweaks should be considered to provide more, or clearer communication as you plan for 2024.

Gather Your Team

Today’s HR teams are already managing many areas, including recruitment, retention, return to work protocols, and other priorities. It is critical to have a team of trusted partners to fill in the gaps and allow HR to focus on strategic areas. For many employers, brokers are providing that support, either directly or indirectly (by identifying outside partners).

For example, a recent survey by Optavise showed that 95% of brokers are reporting moderate to high demand for help with benefits communications and 77% are seeing similar demand for health care transparency and advocacy support. Further, brokers have seen almost a 60% increase in clients adding voluntary benefits in response to employee demands and recruiting pressures.

Employers are also relying on brokers for help with ERISA and ACA compliance and reporting. Seventy-three percent of brokers say their clients rely heavily on them to provide compliance services. Demand is likely to increase as new regulations become effective and the need for to create materials and reports, such as employer shared responsibility reports required by the ACA, summary plan descriptions, surprise billing notices, etc.

Brokers can also vet and recommend outside partners to assist with onboarding, communications efforts and year-round employee support. Benefits educators can answer employee questions about their benefits and enroll new hires; advocates can work with employees to resolve billing questions, find providers and arrange appointments, help patients navigate their diagnoses and treatment recommendations and identify cost-effective treatment options.

By partnering with brokers and other external partners, employers can ensure their employees are receiving accurate and consistent benefits messaging, as well as individualized support to manage their health and their wallets.

Having this team in place well before planning begins for the next plan year can ensure that all parties are aligned and primed to make next year’s enrollment a success.

As the macroeconomic environment is expected to be challenging in the coming year, it is increasingly important for employees to understand how they can obtain the needed care and financial protections without stretching their wallets to the breaking point. By listening to employee concerns, communicating year-round, and having a strong team in place to assist both HR and the workforce, employers can ensure their employees are positioned for success this year and in the future.

Kim Buckey, Vice President, Client Services, Optavise