Benefits Open Enrollment: A Peek Behind the Mystical HR Curtain

You know the drill—the open enrollment package arrives, you go online to sign up for benefits and your new insurance card arrives few weeks later. Seems simple right? A wave of the magical HR wand and everything is done. Sorry folks but the “easy button” doesn’t exist for the HR/Benefits Professional.

Humor me for a minute and let’s pretend you are the benefits person at your company. It’s 8:30 a.m. on June 4th. You’re in a conference room sitting across from your insurance broker who has just presented you with a renewal from your medical insurance company that includes a huge premium increase. Your stomach drops and you begin to feel nauseous. The Large Claims Report shows several costly treatments for terminal illnesses and your Premiums to Claims report is so bad that you’re almost in agreement with the increase. With this kind of a renewal offer you have no choice but to shop competitors’ offers. After enduring several in-person meetings with insurance sales people you’ve managed to push the incumbent renewal offer down to a level where your CFO won’t laugh you out of his office.

It’s time to present the renewal to the Benefits Committee. You put together a concise presentation of the offers you received, plan changes which could help to soften the premium increase and your recommendation on the benefits package for the upcoming year. The committee decides that the deductible should be increased and more cost sharing shifted towards employees this year. The company hasn’t been performing as it has historically and simply can’t afford a several thousand-dollar increase.

Hit the ground running. It’s now late July and it’s time to start developing the marketing and communication for this year’s open enrollment. You’ve posted the new benefits summaries on the intranet, created open enrollment posters, drafted email communication, put together print communication (open enrollment package), and set up benefits meetings with your insurance representatives to educate employees on this year’s benefits changes. On top of the regular open enrollment preparation, this year you’re working closely with a benefits attorney to ensure your company is complying with PPACA’s (Healthcare Reform’s) changes that go into effect for 2013. At this point your office is beginning to look like a hurricane passed through and if you have any more energy drinks you might float away.

It’s mid-August—you load the new rates into the HR payroll system and begin prepare the HRIS for this year’s open enrollment session. Testing the enrollment takes several weeks and unfortunately you’ve run into a few snags with the coverage tiers not working as they should. Partnering with your payroll company rep you’ve managed to solve these problems but it has taken a few weeks and it’s already mid-September. Open Enrollment begins in October and ends a few weeks later. Of course, you had to respond to several complaints about the premium increase, cost shifting, increase in deductible and regulatory FSA limit decrease but for the most part it goes off without a hitch and ends a few weeks later.

So next time an Open Enrollment package lands on your desk or arrives in your mailbox—take a moment to thank your HR/Benefits Professional for all the sleepless nights and hard work that went into renewing your benefits.

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