Preparing for Health Benefits Open Enrollment Period

August 8, 2014 ( – Employers should use their open enrollment period to convey the most current information about health care coverage to employees, according to speakers for a recent Mercer webinar.

By Kevin McGuinness | August 08, 2014
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During the webinar titled “Preparing for 2015 Open Enrollment,” Mike Sinkeldam, a principal for Mercer's Health and Benefits practice in Irvine, California, pointed to some employee-focused objectives of open enrollment that are important. “Communicating changes about benefit programs to employees, reminding them of the benefits available, and giving them the chance to make changes to their benefits should all be carried out during this period.”

He said this is also a time to carry out more employer-based objectives, including administrative needs, such as making sure beneficiary designations and dependent information are correct, and employee relation goals, such as educating them about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it affects them. Employers should also use this time to manage legal compliance requirements via communications, which can include various notifications and reporting that are required by state or federal law.

Sinkeldam also noted that while laws that deal with health care coverage, such as Internal Revenue Code Section 125 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), do not specifically require employers to hold an open enrollment period, it is encouraged and can be helpful in meeting the previously mentioned employee and employer objectives.

New York-based Babette Madison, a principal in Mercer's Health and Benefits practice, offered several tips for the open enrollment period:

  • Supply legally required communications. This includes providing new hires with a public exchange notice, which explains health care exchange systems and services, as well as tax credits and subsidies;
  • Update materials to reflect 2015 information;
  • Use a Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) document to communicate changes;
  • Consider delivery methods to ensure required notices get into the hands of employees;
  • Consider the use of technology to facilitate the process. If electronic delivery can be used, it may save an employer time and money; and
  • Consider how to capture information from employees (mailing addresses, beneficiary designations and so on) that may be needed for an employer's records.