Author: Lisa Dampf, NASBA Benefits Manager
Posted: August 2, 2011

Whether your company begins its fiscal year in January or July, there’s always one period that rolls around every year: open enrollment for benefits. And because many firms don’t take advantage of this opportunity to educate employees on their benefits packages – and the changes that this window allows them to make – it’s an educational opportunity that goes unfulfilled.

Open enrollment is your one time a year to get a lot of questions answered, and help people make decisions that can affect their healthcare for an entire year.

Here’s some advice on the do’s and don’ts of open enrollment:

What exactly is open enrollment, and what can I, as an employee, get out of it?

The open enrollment period allows you to evaluate your current healthcare coverage, and learn about other available coverage offered by the company’s insurance providers. This is how new benefits show up in the plans we offer, or when benefits are reduced or removed. Open enrollment is also the only time, other than a life-changing event, such as a marriage or change in dependent status, when you can enroll in our Section 125 Cafeteria plans, which allow pre-tax deductions.

How does NASBA educate its employees about what’s going on with open enrollment and their benefits?

We hold mandatory meetings, usually with about 20 people in each one. Our insurance broker comes in and we take questions, pass out booklets, anything we can do to make sure that people understand the changes, and what their options are. The meetings last about 90 minutes, but we will schedule individual meetings with anyone whose question wasn’t answered or simply needs more time. Follow-up emails are sent after each meeting.

What should companies try to do in advance of these periods?

It’s important to get the word out early, because in NASBA’s case we offer a lot of pretax options, which require a few legalities we have to observe in terms of advance notice. It’s also important just to make sure employees know about pretax options, which can save them money. They can double-check at this time to make sure their medical provider is still enrolled in their plan, and what their total benefits are. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is the opportunity to make sure they have what they need for the upcoming year.

How important is the relationship with your insurance broker?

Having a solid relationship with your insurance broker is extremely important. And you absolutely have to have a broker who works with you, because you’re not an expert on insurance. Ours helps us run the annual meetings. With all the changes from healthcare reform, it’s more important than ever to have someone who can help communicate that information to employees.

NASBA has had the same broker for 14 years, and we use this person for all of our benefits. You can have different brokers for different components of your benefits package, however; it’s something that each company should examine. What you want is a total benefits package that provides the best fit between what the employer is able to offer and what your employees are asking for.

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