Open Enrollment 2023: Essential Strategies for Small Businesses

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Oct 20, 2023
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As the year draws to a close, small business owners across the country are gearing up for open enrollment 2023, the annual period when employees can make changes to their group health insurance plans. With the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare and the unique challenges faced by small businesses, it’s crucial to be well-prepared to make the process as smooth as possible for both employers and employees. 

In this blog post, we demystify the concept of open enrollment, provide practical tips on how to make it less stressful and explore how a professional employer organization (PEO) can be an invaluable ally in navigating the complexities of group health insurance renewal. So, whether you are a seasoned small business owner or just starting out, this guide is designed to help you navigate open enrollment 2023 with ease and confidence.

Qualifying LIfe Events and Medical Benefits Enrollment Changes

What Is Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment is the annual period when employees of a small business can enroll in, change, or renew their group health insurance coverage for the upcoming year. It is a crucial time for both employers and employees to review and understand the health benefits options available, make informed decisions and ensure that the chosen plans meet their needs and requirements.

During open enrollment, small business owners are responsible for providing their employees with all the necessary information about the health insurance plans they offer, including any changes or updates to the plans, coverage options and costs. Employees then have the opportunity to review their options, ask questions and make changes to their coverage as needed.

This period is typically held once a year and lasts for a specific timeframe, often a week or two, during which employees must make their selections. It is important for small business owners to communicate clearly with their employees about the open enrollment period, ensure that they have all the information they need to make informed decisions and provide support and resources to help them navigate the process.

But just how badly do employees actually feel about open enrollment? These numbers from a 2022 Haven Life survey show that employers have a long way to go to ensure a good open enrollment 2023 employee experience:

  • 50% of respondents would rather let their spouse have total control of the TV remote on Thanksgiving than review their health insurance and benefits options
  • 33% of respondents have only somewhat or no understanding of the health care benefits their company provides
  • 17% indicated they have somewhat or no understanding of the difference between health insurance and life insurance
  • 14% of respondents whose companies offer benefits don't even know when their company’s open enrollment period begins

RELATED: Open Enrollment Communication - 8 Tips to Help Your Employees Speak Benefits >>

How to Make Open Enrollment 2023 Less Stressful

With so many workers expressing feelings of stress, pressure and confusion surrounding the benefits enrollment process, it’s critical employers take steps to create a more positive experience. 

Here are seven proven tips for a streamlined open enrollment process:

  • Plan early

Employers should start preparing for open enrollment three-to-six months in advance. The further out you begin to plan, the more flexibility your business will have to explore different health insurance and employee benefits options and put together the right mix of medical plans for their workforce, especially if it is multi-generational.

At this time you should compile all materials to ensure benefits information is accurate and up-to-date, including brochures, memos, internal websites and videos. Then begin planning your timeline including employee emails, informational meetings, webinars, benefits presenters and any anonymous surveys that will be conducted to find out what your employees really want.

  • Review the previous year and set goals

    The best way to create a more simplified enrollment process this year is to carefully review what worked and what didn’t last year. What measurements will you use to determine success? Is it the open rate on benefits emails or the watch time on videos and attendance rate in optional meetings?

    At the very least the percentage of employees opting into your benefits should be tracked. Then set realistic goals to improve from the previous year.
  • Communicate with employees

One of the most often reported open enrollment complaints from employees is that the process is rushed and there’s not enough time to make informed decisions. By starting the benefits conversation before the official start of open enrollment, especially if there will be changes to your program, you can reduce stress and pressure.

Ideally, messaging should be started one month before open enrollment and should continue on a regular basis throughout the entire process. Remember, keep your messaging clear and concise.

According to an Aflac study, 61% of benefits enrollees say there are at least some things they don’t understand about their overall policies, including deductibles, copays or providers in their network.

So, while it may be easy to get caught up in benefits acronyms, like HSA and PPO, strive to use whole words, define health benefits terms and clearly explain what the cost and value of the benefit is to the employee.Businesses must explain health insurance benefits and terminology to employees for full benefit.

  • Consider all generations

When planning your messaging and educational materials, remember all generations have a different level of comfort with technology. While older generations may favor live presentations, brochures and print materials, younger workers in their 20s and 30s grew up surrounded by technology.

These generations tend to favor video, mobile apps and information that is easily accessible on the go through their mobile devices. By offering the right mix of materials, you can increase education and engagement across your entire workforce.

  • Have a benefits administrator available 

    An employee meeting featuring a benefits expert to answer enrollment questions is a must. At Axcet HR Solutions, our human resources consultants visit client sites at the beginning of open enrollment to distribute information on the plans for the upcoming year.

    We’re here to help employees understand the functionality of their plans and how to get the most out of their benefits. A face-to-face interaction with a benefits expert helps ensure your employees are getting the latest and most accurate information.
  • Use technology to your advantage

    Technology helps businesses reduce the administrative burden of open enrollment and improves accuracy. Whether you are using open enrollment technology to administer anonymous surveys, deliver educational materials or have a comprehensive online enrollment system, it will greatly improve the enrollment experience.

    For example, Axcet HR Solutions' clients gain access to a comprehensive, online platform for open enrollment, making it easier for all client-employees to access and submit their annual enrollment elections. But we don’t substitute HR technology for high-touch, high-value relationships.

    In addition to our in-person open enrollment meetings and seamless online enrollment, dedicated human resources consultants continue to work with our payroll administrators to keep the client updated on the progress and completion of benefits enrollment.

    RELATED: How HR Tech Can Improve Your Business' Open Enrollment Experience >>
  • Track enrollment progress

    Missing the open enrollment deadline may mean serious consequences for affected employees. Unless a qualifying life event occurs, a missed open enrollment deadline means the individual may be without benefits until the next opportunity to enroll, which typically isn’t until the following year.

    As the enrollment deadline approaches, make a point to reach out to employees who have yet to enroll in benefits.

The Secret to Using Benefits to Improve Employee Loyalty and Productivity

Open Enrollment 2023: The Axcet HR Solutions Difference

The quality, variety and ease of understanding and enrolling in benefits can be all the difference when ensuring your employees are healthy and engaged. Additionally, the right employee benefits have been proven to improve your business’ ability to recruit and retain top talent.

That’s why, at Axcet HR Solutions, we afford our clients a personal, dedicated HR consultant experienced in employee benefits administration. This certified expert navigates the benefits minefield for clients, ensures legal compliance, manages the ever-growing paperwork and takes this headache off the business owner’s shoulders.

Axcet manages every step along the way — from the agreements with the carrier to enrollment and education and then plan administration. 

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