An Employer Guide to Open Enrollment for the 2022 Policy Year

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to throw a wrench into the economy and the workplace, employers are gearing up for another unusual open enrollment for their group health plans for the 2022 policy year.

As a result of the pandemic, your employees’ priorities may have changed and some of them may be looking at enhanced benefits, or to change their plans’ deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums.

The coronavirus is obviously not in the rear-view mirror, so employers need to consider workers’ new priorities when choosing health insurance plans and other employee benefit offerings.

Employees’ new priorities

Here’s what’s become a priority for many workers today:

  • Mental health support
  • Access to telehealth
  • Higher interest in health savings accounts (HSAs).

Employers should consider their staff’s new priorities when designing health and benefit programs. If you decide to make changes to your plans or if your health plans have changed, you’ll need to effectively communicate those changes to your workforce.

More health plans are rolling out more and improved access to mental health support, the demand for which has surged during the pandemic as many people struggled with the sudden changes and isolation spawned by stay-at-home orders.

Additionally, because many people were afraid or because of doctor’s office restrictions, many tried telehealth video-conferencing services for the first time in 2020 or in 2021. Insurers see telehealth as a viable option for reducing the cost of care, and they have invested heavily in the infrastructure to enable health plan enrollees to meet virtually with their doctors.

More health plans are also covering mental health video-conference sessions as well.

Many plans have expanded these services, but you’ll need to check to see if the ones you are offering include these enhancements.

Additionally, the pandemic has resulted in more employees looking for ways to set aside funds during the year to pay for health care and medications. This can be done through HSAs and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). which are funded by the employee using pre-tax dollars. The funds in those accounts can be used to reimburse for a wide variety of qualified medical expenses.

HSAs, however, can only be offered to employees who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). HSAs can be kept for life and can be transferred from one employer to the next if a worker switches jobs. FSAs are easier to set up, but they are not kept for life and cannot be transferred to another employer when an individual leaves your employ.

There are some changes to these plans that you should know about.

The Coronavirus Aid, Response and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March 2020, allowed HSA-qualified HDHPs to cover telehealth services before plan enrollees reached their deductible. This provision expires Dec. 31, 2021.

However, another change brought by the CARES Act is permanent: Employees with HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements or health FSAs are now allowed to use those accounts to reimburse for over-the-counter medications without a prescription, and for certain menstrual care products, such as tampons and pads.

Communications and planning

During your open enrollment meetings and in your communications material, you’ll want to highlight any new services that the health plans you are offering your staff will cover.

Since COVID-19 is still present and is raging in some communities, you may want to consider:

Holding a ‘virtual benefits fair’ — In these virtual fairs, employees and families can go online and check out the offerings of all the plans available to them, so they can learn more about their offerings and provider networks. These events can be done on the employees’ and families’ own time.

Conducting virtual open enrollment meetings — Consider holding teleconference open enrollment meetings to go over the employees’ health plan choices, and the deductibles, copays, premium amounts and what the maximum out-of-pocket is for each choice.

Sending out more frequent and targeted communications — Targeted communications can be sent to various cohorts of your employees, such as information on plans that would be of most interest to people in their 20s and 30s. What you send them in terms of recommended options would be different than what you send older employees, who have other priorities.

Using technology for enrollment — Some health plans offer apps through which employees can choose and sign up for the plan of their choice. Talk to us about what’s available to you.

Schedule it

The Society for Human Resources Management recommends that you do the following in the two months prior to open enrollment (September through October). This is the time to get the word out about the upcoming open enrollment. Consider:

  • Distributing a pre-enrollment flier (printed and online) in September.
  • Holding a virtual benefits fair in mid-to-late September.
  • Distributing the enrollment packet at the end of October (printed and online).

Getting a Head Start on Open Enrollment

With open enrollment right around the corner, it’s time to review the health plan options available to you for the next year and prepare your workplace for signing up for the 2021 policy year.

The big decision for employers is finding a plan that fits not only their budget but also the budgets of their employees. And this is particularly important for “applicable large employers” under the Affordable Care Act, who must also ensure that the least expensive of their plans must not cost more than 9.83% of any of their health-plan-eligible employees’ household incomes.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, benefits advisors recommend that employers get an earlier than usual start on preparing for their upcoming open enrollments. The following are just a few issues you need to consider for this year’s open enrollment:

Determine how many employees will receive coverage – It’s to your advantage to try to get as many of your employees to enroll in your health plan as possible, particularly if you are a small employer. The more lives in your plan, the more the risk is spread for the insurer, which can translate into lower policy premiums for all of your workers.

Keep things simple – Try not to make open enrollment complicated. Your employees have enough on their minds during the pandemic. Your literature and meetings should provide easy-to-follow instructions that tell your workers:

  • What they need to do to enroll or re-enroll.
  • How they can choose the right health plan for themselves and their family, and
  • When the deadline is.

Get an early start and provide employees with health plan information prior to open enrollment, so as to give them enough time to review and compare their insurance options.

Informing your employees – If you are planning to meet with your staff in person, you’ll need to plan for social distancing as well as offering employees that cannot or do not feel safe the option to join the meeting via video conferencing.

If you plan to have your staff enroll and choose plans electronically, you need to make provisions for the ones who may not have access to a good internet connection or the technology to do so.

Periodically remind your employees to submit their applications or make changes before the end of the open enrollment period. Have a mechanism in place for identifying and approaching laggards as the deadline approaches.

The COVID factor – Your employees will want to know if testing and treatment of COVID-19 will be covered, as well as any vaccine that may eventually become available. Federal legislation enacted in March required all private insurance plans to cover costs associated with COVID-19 tests. A number of insurers announced that they would also waive all cost-sharing for in-network medical visits related to COVID-19, as well as for telehealth visits.

Since there are no laws that require private insurance plans to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, you will have to explore your plan options to see which ones may offer treatment without cost-sharing. Also check to see if the plans you have access to will waive out-of-pocket fees for a coronavirus vaccine should one become available.

Coverage questions for your employees – Encourage your employees to ask questions during your meetings, and ask them to consider re-evaluating their coverage in light of:

  • Change in dependents – Will employees be adding or removing any dependents, such as children or a spouse, from their health plans? Will you the employer contribute to qualified dependent coverage and if so, how much?  
  • Health issues – Does any employee have evolving health issues that will require more medical services than they have used in the past. They should also check to make sure their plan network includes their personal physician, as well as covering the medicines they may be taking regularly.
  • Affordability – How much are they willing to pay for coverage and what kind of deducible would be in their price range? What is the premium cost-sharing (how much the employee pays for their share of the premium)?

The takeaway

During the pandemic, you’ll need to get a head start on open enrollment by getting information on your offerings to your staff as early as possible. Be prepared to answer questions about coverage, particularly as it pertains to COVID-19.

You can work with us to make sure you have everything in place for a successful open enrollment.

Preparing for Open Enrollment During the Pandemic

With the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing, health insurance is likely top of mind for your employees. Many of them will be anxious and it’s likely that they will be more engaged and interested in understanding whether their current coverage is sufficient should they be stricken by the virus.

Not only that, but due to social distancing and with many employees working remotely, employers will need to adjust their open enrollment procedures to make sure they are safe, efficient and a success for both them and their employees.

This year in particular, it’s important that you use a multi-pronged approach that keeps everyone informed and safe.

Comprehensive and simple communications

When you are informing your staff about their benefits and open enrollment procedures, make sure you keep things simple. Don’t delve into too many details that are likely to confuse them, but explain the bigger picture and direct them to other documents and information for the detail.

When explaining the benefits and procedures, don’t get bogged down in insurance jargon. Use everyday language, charts, graphs or infographics, checklists and other tools that make absorbing the information easier.

Use many communication media

Many workplaces are multi-generational and different generations prefer different modes of communication, particularly if you have employees who are working remotely due to the pandemic

To make sure you can reach all of your workforce, blast them information using a number of media. And follow up with phone calls to remote staff that don’t respond.

E-mails and e-mail newsletters

E-mails are an excellent way to communicate important information to employees, and to gather information on what they are opening, reading and forwarding.

You can inform them about open enrollment, provide them documentation on the plan offerings and inform them of upcoming web meetings and other important enrollment information.

Web meetings

Hold webinar meetings with videoconferencing to inform your staff about their benefit choices and what, if any, changes are being made to plans going into the new year.

You should focus on the main topics:  

  • Any increases in health plan premiums,
  • Plan changes like deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, copays, and more,
  • Network changes,
  • New offerings, and
  • Resources to help your workers choose the right plan.

There will likely be many queries about COVID-19 coverage, so be prepared to answer related questions.

During these web meetings, encourage your staff to ask questions and get answers. Record the meeting for employees that are unable to make it, so they can view it on their own time.

You should require all of your staff to either participate in the actual meeting or view the meeting. Set up a virtual sign-up for them to confirm they attended and received all the information.

Offer benefit support

Not everyone is going to be able to wrap their noodle around everything you went over during the web meeting. And plan documents can sometimes be daunting and confusing to someone who is not experienced in your system or is new to the workforce. 

Additionally, some of your staff may have questions they are not comfortable asking during a group meeting and that would be more appropriately directed at a benefit counselor. This way, they can talk to someone who can guide them in choosing the right plan for them.

Don’t forget text messaging

Since most everyone has a smartphone on their person or nearby at all times these days, sending them text messages is a sure-fire way to get in front of them.

Use texting to notify staff about open enrollment dates, resources about their benefits, upcoming benefit meetings, contact resources, how to access the enrollment and benefit portal, and who to call for assistance.

Company intranet, enrollment portal

Post all of your open enrollment information on your company intranet if you have one, including links to the open enrollment portal. Every time you communicate with your staff, include the link to the open enrollment information.

This page should have all of your enrollment information, including start and end dates, links or pdfs of all plan benefit guides and plan summaries, contact information of key personal and benefit counselors, as well as all other resources they will need to choose their health plan.

The takeaway

By employing a mixture of all of the above strategies, you can conduct a safe and informative open enrollment that can help your staff choose their plan wisely and also feel comfortable about not catching COVID-19 during the process.

Get an Early Start on Open Enrollment

As open enrollment is right around the corner, now is the time to make a plan to maximize employee enrollment and help your staff select the health plans that best suit them.

You’ll also need to make sure that you comply with the Affordable Care Act if it applies to your organization, as well as other laws and regulations.

Here are some pointers to make open enrollment fruitful for both your staff and your organization.

Review what you did last year

Review the results of last year’s enrollment efforts to make sure the process and the perks remain relevant and useful to workers.

Were the various approaches and communication channels you used effective, and did you receive any feedback about the process, either good or bad?

Start early with notifications

You should give your employees at least a month’s notice before open enrollment, and provide them with the materials they will need to make an informed decision.

This includes the various health plans that you are offering your staff for next year.

Encourage them to read the information and come to your human resources point person with questions.

Help in sorting through plans

You should be able to help them figure out which plan features fit their needs, and how much the plans will cost them out of their paycheck. Use technology to your advantage, particularly any registration portal that your plan provider offers. Provide a single landing page for all enrollment applications.

Also, hold meetings on the plans and put notices in your staff’s paycheck envelopes.

Plan materials

Communicate to your staff any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the next plan year through an updated summary plan description or a summary of material modifications.

Confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices, when applicable – such as the summary of benefits and coverage.

Check grandfathered status

A grandfathered plan is one that was in existence when the ACA was enacted on March 23, 2010, and is thus exempt from some of the law’s requirements.

If you have a grandfathered plan, talk to us to confirm whether it will maintain its grandfathered status for the next plan year. If it is, you must notify your employees of the plan status. If it’s not, you need to confirm with us that your plan comports with the ACA in terms of benefits offered.

ACA affordability standard

Under the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules, applicable large employers must offer “affordable” plans, based on a percentage of the employee’s household income. For plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1 of next year, the affordability percentage is 9.86% of household income. At least one of your plans must meet this threshold.

Get spouses involved

Benefits enrollment is a family affair, so getting spouses involved is critical. You should encourage your employees to share the health plan information with their spouses, so they can make informed decisions on their health insurance together.

Also, encourage any spouses who have questions to schedule an appointment to get questions answered.

Getting a Head Start on Open Enrollment

As open enrollment is right around the corner, now is the time to gear up to maximize employee enrollment, help them make the best selections for their own personal circumstances, and stay compliant with relevant laws and regulations.

It’s a lot to take in as uncertainty has been a constant during the last many years with the onset of the Affordable Care Act, and now that its future is hazy at best.

Still, since health coverage and other employee benefits are an important part of your compensation package – and your competitive edge for talent – it’s important that you get it right.

Here are some pointers to make open enrollment fruitful for your staff and your organization.

Review what you did last year

Review the results of the previous year’s open enrollment efforts to make sure the process and the perks remain relevant and useful to workers. How effective were various approaches and communication channels, and did people give any feedback about the process itself?

Start early with notifications

You should give your employees notice at least a month before open enrollment to let them know it’s coming, as well as provide them with information on the various plans you are offering. Encourage them to read the information and come to your human resources point person with questions.

Help them sort through plans

You should be able to help them figure out which plan features fit their needs, and how much the plans will cost them out of their paycheck. Use technology to your advantage, particularly any registration portal that your plan provider offers. Provide a single landing page for all enrollment applications.

That said, you should hold meetings on the plans and also put notices in your employees’ paycheck envelopes.

Plan materials

Communicate to your staff any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the 2019 plan year through an updated summary plan description or a summary of material modifications.

Confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices, when applicable – such as the summary of benefits and coverage.

Check grandfathered status

A grandfathered plan is one that was in existence when the ACA was enacted on March 23, 2010 and is thus exempt from some of the law’s requirements. If you make certain changes to your plan that go beyond permitted guidelines, the plan is no longer grandfathered.

If you have a grandfathered plan, talk to us to confirm whether it will maintain its grandfathered status for the 2019 plan year. If it is, you must notify your employees of the plan status. If it’s not, you need to confirm with us that your plan comports with the ACA in terms of benefits offered.

ACA affordability standard

Under the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules, applicable large employers must offer “affordable” plans, based on a percentage of the employee’s household income. For plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2019, the affordability percentage is 9.86% of household income. At least one of your plans must meet this threshold.

Out-of-pocket maximum

The ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum applies to all non-grandfathered group health plans. The limit for 2019 plans is $7,900 for self-only coverage and $15,800 for family coverage.

Make sure your plan is in line with these figures.

Other notices

Consider also including the following notices:

  • Initial COBRA notice
  • HIPAA notice. This may be included in the plan’s summary plan description
  • Notice of HIPAA special enrollment rights
  • HIPAA privacy notice
  • Summary plan description
  • Medicare Part D notices
Get spouses involved

Benefits enrollment is a family affair, so getting spouses involved is critical. You should encourage your employees to share the health plan information with their spouses so they can make informed decisions on their health insurance together.

Also, encourage any spouses who have questions to schedule an appointment to get questions answered.