With open enrollment on the horizon, we invited one of the benefits experts in our ecosystem to share her tips for a stress-free and seamless enrollment - from a Benefits Administrators perspective. Alice Hinton, the Human Resources Product Manager at Innovative Business Solutions, has been in the HR space for over 20 years and has been through many open enrollment seasons! Don't forget to download her checklist to stay organized.
“You may delay, but time will not.” – Ben Franklin
With the summer behind us, now is the time to reach out to your clients regarding open enrollment planning. Maybe there will be a change in roles or responsibilities this year, or perhaps the timelines need adjusting from prior years. Start early, and you'll be glad you did.
Every year around this time, we kick off the process by reviewing the prior years' open enrollment projects. We do this to review any issues that had come up, and to use the learnings to formulate plans for the upcoming season. In preparation for this process, we map out all of our clients’ timelines to identify overlaps, and to identify opportunities where we can consolidate training sessions and webinars. Our next step, is to develop timelines, noting hard and flexible due dates. All of this prep work helps ensure that open enrollment materials get processed on time, and ultimately that we deliver the highest quality of service to our clients.
Planning the Timeline
The open enrollment due dates are often the most difficult to pin down - as there are some items beyond our control. For example, brokers obtaining rate/plan options and our clients making decisions on contributions. However, after years of managing this process, I can confidently say that a carefully crafted plan helps you reach achievable expectations, and better control over the project. Next, lets look at a sample timeline!
Open Enrollment Timeline
Below is a sample timeline we use for our clients. For this example, we use a January 1, 2020 plan effective date. The timeline allows for necessary decision-making between steps and also accommodates year-end holidays. You can download a sample template to customize here.
|Open Enrollment Project List||Due Date|
|Meet with the broker to review plans/rates/carriers||October 1, 2019|
|Confirm plans/carriers and company contribution||October 18, 2019|
|Provide payroll with employee rates and contributions||October 25, 2019|
|Submit carrier connection orders/updates to EverythingBenefits||October 25 2019|
|Client reviews OE portal to check rates and updates||October 25-29, 2019|
|Conduct employee OE meetings||November 4-8, 2019|
|Start open enrollment||November 4, 2019|
|Conclude open enrollment||November 15, 2019|
|Submit company elections to payroll||November 15, 2019|
|Submit census to carriers to ensure timely coverage/cards||Dec 15, 2019|
|First payroll with new rates||Jan 1, 2020|
|Bill Reconciliation / carrier billing with new plan/rates||Jan 15, 2020|
|Submit changes to the carrier||Jan 15, 2020|
|Plan(s) coverage effective date||January 1, 2020|
Flexible vs Hard Due Dates
Some dates have flexibility because they are not imposed by the carrier or other third parties, for example:
- Review of rates and plans from the broker
- Company portfolio lineup and contribution rates decision-making
- Employee election decision-making
- Initial submission of census to carriers
Other dates have little or no flexibility. Delays on these items will likely prevent you from completing all steps on time, and possible effect coverage and billing.
- Getting rates, plans, and carrier information to the payroll provider.
- Sending carrier connection changes to EverythingBenefits to allow enough time for the multiple parties involved (EverythingBenefits, carriers, client, and payroll provider) to build, test, and confirm changes are correct before the plan(s) effective date. EverythingBenefits needs a 30 day notice to allow for minor changes.
- Getting plan election/waived census files to carriers before their cut-off to ensure correct enrollment/drop data, updated dependents/demographic data, and cards are issued to employees prior to the start of the new plan year.
Critical Steps that Are Often Missed
It’s important to watch out for key steps in the timeline that could be overlooked or forgotten, such as:
- Not sending updated census to carriers (even if the carrier only wants changes, you should still audit the existing census for accuracy before sending)
- Not reconciling the first payroll after the new rates kick in
- Not reconciling the first carrier invoice with new the plan and rates
- Staying ahead of your active COBRA users and/or retirees
A Few More Items to Keep in Mind
Even veteran experts occasionally experience glitches in the process.
- Keep an eye on the employees who are on leave of absence or those who go on vacation before submitting their changes. The updates in the census file may need to be re-transmitted.
- If your clients’ COBRA was offered by a carrier and they are changing your carriers, they may need to find a new COBRA provider will take care of the active participants.
- Make sure that all of the employees who elected have received their cards, if applicable. Nothing's worse than an employee going to the doctor during the end of year season and discovering that their medical coverage is no longer active.
If the timeline is a new tool for you or your clients, they may be overwhelmed with all the details. However, with time, your clients (and you!) will get better and better at adhering to important deadlines for open enrollment success and will love having a roadmap for this sometimes overwhelming process. I hope that sharing some of our company's best practices will be useful to other service providers and employers. Good luck!
By Alice D. Hinton, SPHR. Alice joined Innovative Business Solutions, Inc., in 2011 with a goal of helping customers achieve a fully integrated Human Resource solution within the Kronos platform. Prior to joining Innovative, she owned her own consulting business as well as held a variety of executive-level positions in Operations, Finance, and Human Resources. In these positions, she demonstrated her abilities as a strategic thinker with a unique combination of strong interpersonal communication skills and technical experience. Alice is a passionate leader who is energized by helping others achieve their full potential and by helping organizations exceed expectations.