Maximizing value: Three tips for brokers this open enrollment season

By Kim Buckey

Open enrollment season is here, and millions of Americans are gearing up to make their benefits selections for 2024. Whether your client is conducting an active or passive enrollment this year, as a benefits broker, you must continue to be a resource for them and their workforce in the lead-up to, during and post-open enrollment.

As you and your clients look to successfully close out the 2024 open enrollment season and start to look ahead to 2025, here’s how to position yourself as a top-notch benefits advisor all year.

During open enrollment: Host virtual and in-person meetings to answer any employee questions
Ask anyone: Employee benefits are hard, even for professionals! So, not surprisingly, employees have lots of questions.

While more seasoned employees who’ve been through years of open enrollments may only have questions about new offerings, less-experienced workers may have questions about basic terms and concepts, the enrollment process and every benefit option. For example, on average, 80% of baby boomers reported knowing each health care term and how it relates to their coverage compared to 76% of Generation X, 68% of millennials and 60% of Generation Z, according to a recent report from Optavise. However, regardless of age and experience, almost everyone will have questions about the rising cost of health care and what their employer — and plan offerings — are doing to manage those costs.

Work with your clients to schedule forums through which employees can get those questions answered. (As the old advertising slogan says, “An educated consumer is our best customer!”) To accommodate today’s increasingly hybrid workforce, this year, brokers offered support both in-person (75%, up from 54% in 2022) and virtually (65%, up from 56% in 2022), according to the Optavise survey. Being available to employees — whether through in-person group meetings, private chats, or webinars -- will help educate employees on their benefits offerings and how to use them.

Post-open enrollment: Keep the conversation going
After enrollment is over, ask your clients to sit down with you and other stakeholders to discuss what went right and where things could improve. Looking at the metrics of who and how many made election changes and which plans were most popular will provide valuable input as planning for next year’s benefits and enrollment strategy begins. Capitalizing on things clients already do well, brainstorming things that could be done better, and turning goals into actions for next year are great ways brokers can highlight their value.

Further, look at the questions employees had during the process. Were they confused about how to enroll? Were there questions about a specific plan option or program, or did employees struggle to understand certain concepts? Gathering feedback from call centers, front-line supervisors, human resource and benefits teams, and enrollment support specialists can help inform your client’s communications during the year and next year’s open enrollment — and identify opportunities to streamline the enrollment process.

Pre-open enrollment: Developing robust communication plans
While open enrollment season typically runs for a few weeks each fall, brokers should help clients develop a benefits communication strategy to promote positive benefits practices year-round. In fact, according to Optavise’s 2023 Annual Benefits Broker Survey, 93% of brokers reported seeing moderate to high demand for help with benefits communications materials, and 66% agreed that offering communication services brings a lot of value to their business.

A strong year-round communication strategy should include messages that set the stage for open enrollment by explaining terms and concepts, providing food for thought about how life changes can—and should — affect benefit choices, and setting expectations for what will change in the coming year. Enrollment communications should include clear messaging about the next year’s benefits — including what’s changing and what’s staying the same.

Communications also must include a call to action for the employee — such as an invitation to set up a one-on-one conversation to answer any questions. Brokers should also identify and help develop key talking points for benefit champions—such as front-line supervisors and managers--that alert employees to the enrollment deadline, explain the process (particularly for new hires), and remind employees of the resources available to them.

Consider developing a benefits and enrollment-related FAQ for your client to share with their employees. This should be a “living” document that is updated frequently throughout the enrollment period as questions arise. The FAQ can be posted on the company intranet or internal social media, emailed to employees, or made available in hard copy at strategic locations.

With open enrollment season here, brokers should encourage their clients to foster strong communications with their employees to make informed decisions about their health and benefits offerings. Brokers offer an invaluable service to their clients, and with today’s changing health care landscape, their offerings are more important than ever. Remember: Even though open enrollment is only for a few weeks, benefits brokers help workforces navigate the health insurance market and enhance their experience all year round.

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