Employers Increased Communications during Latest Open Enrollment

February 7, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - U.S. employers increased their use of technology-based communication with workers during the recent open enrollment benefit season, according to a new survey by Towers Watson.

A press release said 84% of respondents used e-mails to communicate benefit choices in 2010, up from 76% in 2009. An additional one-third (33%) used podcasts, Web-based videos or online chats to communicate enrollment information last year, an increase from 27% in 2009.   

The survey found employers also boosted their personal face-to-face communication with employees. The percentage of companies holding face-to-face meetings with employees increased from 53% in 2009 to 60% this enrollment season, while conversations with human resources increased from 50% to 58%.   

Nearly six in 10 plan sponsors (57%) provided decision support tools for participants.   

The survey indicated the days of paper-based benefit enrollment are soon gone. Less than one in 10 employees (9%) reported using paper-based enrollment last year, a decline from 14% in 2009.   

According to the press release, nearly one out of three respondents (32%) reported their greatest challenge during this year’s open enrollment was employee understanding of new plan features. Slightly fewer (29%) said handling an increased number of service center calls was their most challenging issue, followed by explaining price changes (26%).   

On the other hand, implementing health care reform was easy or somewhat easy for 79% of employers. Two in 10 employers (19%) said implementation was somewhat difficult, while just 2% reported that it was difficult. Most of the implementation focused on communicating the provision in the law that allows for dependents under the age of 26 to be covered under their parent’s employer-sponsored health plan.    

The survey also found that employers are planning to make several changes in the coming months. Nearly two-thirds of respondents plan to increase their communication efforts with employees, while nearly one-half (47%) plan to make a change to their health plan design. Forty-four percent plan to provide more self-service capabilities to employees.  

“With health benefit costs continuing to increase, and benefit plans and choices becoming more complex, communicating with employees has never been more important,” said Jeri Stepman, national practice leader for Health and Welfare Outsourcing at Towers Watson, in the press release. “Employers are taking advantage of both the technology and decision support tools available to them to make the open enrollment process as efficient as possible. At the same time, they are arming their employees with information needed to make educated decisions about their benefits for the coming year.”