A new virtual reality for benefits open enrollment
by Bob RuffMr. Ruff is senior vice president of Growth Solutions. He is responsible for the development and execution of key growth initiatives for Aflac U.S., including product development, enrollment, business development and market development. Visit www.aflac.com
It may not have arrived with flying cars, a robot housekeeper or food in a pill, but the future of benefits enrollment is nonetheless upon us. The pandemic, and the difficult economic climate it has created, has moved employers to quickly acclimate to the many challenges of virtual management — including keeping payroll and HR processes on schedule.
Aflac recently published a whitepaper, “Stronger on the Other Side,” to help explain the health care challenges businesses face in light of the pandemic and provide potential solutions for brokers to offer clients. Among what we observed was a clear shift in the strategies employers are using to enroll workers in benefits. There is more technology available than ever — and because of the pandemic, more of a need for it — but there’s still no substitute for human touch.
Without proper guidance, employees are unlikely to take full advantage of the benefits businesses offer. More than 90% of workers choose the same benefits each year, even as their needs may change.1 With social distancing in place, this year’s enrollment process will likely involve much less face-to-face time with a benefits advisor, which could prove detrimental to employees in understanding what benefits are best for them. Taking full advantage of available tech capabilities to handle this unique moment is vital, but employers who become too focused on digital processes alone may risk overlooking the elements of enrollment that help guide employees to the best decisions for their unique situations.
Licensed, trained benefits counselors are well suited to explain benefits packages and make recommendations for employees that are customized to their desires. For brokers, this presents a clear directive: While making digital enrollment tools available to employers is critical, they can further support the benefits selection process by emphasizing the importance of personal conversations — a balance of high-tech with the human contact.
The upcoming open enrollment season is the ideal time to help ensure clients can effectively manage the potential financial challenges of the pandemic and implement digital tools. The following are a few thoughtful steps to successfully navigate this enrollment season and help workers get the benefits they need to face life through and after the pandemic.
Into The Unknown – But Not Alone
At a time when 42% of businesses are planning to move to a more remote or virtual office structure, flexibility is more critical than ever.1 For employers, the ability to gracefully adapt to unpredictable situations like a pandemic could make the difference between success and failure for the businesses of the future.
Given how many businesses have moved or are moving their work to the virtual space, it only makes sense to find digital solutions for enrollment, as well. The focus of which to never lose sight is communication, and there are seemingly unlimited modern possibilities for reaching and teaching employees. Enrollment microsites, live chat and decision-support tools are a few options. But deciding which make the most sense for any given workforce will likely come down to finding the right partner carrier — and that’s where brokers can help make all the difference.
Through brokers, insurance carriers can supply businesses with easy-to-use, automated tools for virtual enrollment and claims monitoring, providing essential assistance to both business owners (who no longer need to fret over tedious manual enrollment) and employees (who can more easily access benefits from the safety of their own home). Successful brokers will quickly familiarize themselves with the options available and help employers find the ideal fit.
Employers are under significant pressure to introduce new enrollment technology into their benefits equation this fall. By showing them how to do so, brokers can help improve client relationships and secure a much higher chance of success during open enrollment.
Recharging Our Batteries
One notable ramification of COVID-19 is its effect on Americans’ emotional health: As of May 2020, more than 40% of employees reported feeling hopeless, burned out or exhausted by work-related concerns during the pandemic.2
There’s no question the pressure of the pandemic has taken a toll on the well-being of employers and workers alike. Creative health support systems can help soothe these difficulties, but don’t presume employers, who are busy wearing many hats and running their operations, have implemented or are yet aware of these potential solutions. Brokers can once again step in here, providing information on the most popular and effective programs to help workers deal with the emotional stress of the pandemic as well as many other anxiety-introducing life situations.
Stress-management programs can help employees remain happy and productive during a challenging time and add value to a benefits package from day one. One such example is a modern wellness program, which can include resources to help employees develop healthier lifestyles and coping mechanisms. Another is an employee assistance program, or EAP, which gives workers access to specialists who can guide them through important personal problems. This can include virtual mental health coaching, which has nearly doubled in popularity among employers in 2020: More than 30% of businesses now plan to incorporate virtual coaching in their plans this open enrollment season.1
Aside from coaching, employers can also consider health and financial advocacy services, where employees can pursue consultations with experts on health care services, bill negotiation, debt management and more. For brokers, the challenge lies in showing employers the value of these potential services and helping them implement the ones that best address their employees’ needs.
Riding The New Wave
For many employees, health insurance may not be enough to feel financially ready for an unexpected health issue. A prime place to turn to help satisfy employees’ benefits needs is supplemental insurance, which provides cash benefits to help with the out-of-pocket expenses health insurance doesn’t cover.
On top of helping employees manage their expenses, supplemental coverage also helps boost employee morale: 70% of employees enrolled in supplemental benefits plans are extremely or very satisfied with their overall benefits package compared to 42% satisfaction among workers whose employers didn’t offer supplemental.1 Because they can often be implemented at little to no cost for employers, supplemental plans can be a cost-effective means for businesses of all sizes to support employees.
Consider supplemental insurance policies with benefits that can be useful during a pandemic. For example, certain supplemental policies like accident and cancer insurance may include a wellness benefit for having a yearly check-up — something that is all too easy to forget when maintaining social distancing. Carriers like Aflac also provide access to value-added services like telehealth, which has seen a boom this year, with nearly 13 percentage points more employers incorporating telemedicine into their supplemental benefits plans in 2020 over 2019.1
In this pandemic-affected open enrollment season, many brokers are looking for cost-effective enrollment opportunities on behalf of their clients. Supplemental insurance is a great addition to an overall benefits package to best fit the needs of each worker.
To infinity …
COVID-19 has pushed employers to implement digital tools for benefits enrollment, and it’s up to brokers to help their clients take that step confidently. Providing modern benefits communication technologies, such as virtual counseling and web-based policy resources, in concert with existing strategies, such as informational emails and one-on-one conversations, is the key to a seamless benefits enrollment process.
By pairing high-tech and high-touch, brokers can guide employers through the digital implementation process while still ensuring workers receive benefits education resources so they can make informed decisions that are right for them. With the right plan and assistance from benefits advisors, employers can find themselves positioned well for the future as they aid their workers in embracing this highly virtual enrollment season and beyond.