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2020 Open Enrollment During COVID-19

Annual open enrollment for health benefits is usually a routine practice for most organizations. However, like many things, it’s sure to have a different feel to it in 2020 because of COVID-19.


Typically, only about half of employees actively enroll in their benefits from one year to the next, according to Alight. That is most likely to change this year with the heightened awareness around health and well-being.

“I think employees are going to drive the change we see with enrollment,” said Sara Taylor, health product strategy leader, health and wealth solutions at Alight. “I think we’ll see different employee behaviors as a result of COVID-19. People are going to look closer at the benefits they get, the cost of those benefits and make some changes that they might not have otherwise, because of necessity and what’s going on in the world around us.”

While organizations have had to adjust to a fully remote workforce model for most of the past five months, it shouldn’t affect open enrollment for most employers, Taylor said. Many have moved to online enrollment solutions, so the mechanics are the same in that regard. How employers go about the communication and education aspects of benefits enrollment will likely need to be altered to fit a remote workforce, she said.

“The biggest impact for many employers is how you tell employees about what the benefits are. That includes what’s changing if there are changes and helping people think about considerations given the world we live in today,” Taylor said. “That might mean instead of on-site benefits fairs and meetings, using virtual benefits fairs and Zoom meetings to help people understand the implications of their benefits and what they need to be thinking about.”

Heather Garbers, vice president of voluntary benefits and technology at HUB International told Benefits Pro that mental well-being is a huge concern that will need to be considered in benefits enrollment options.

“We are proactively providing strategies to address the mental health of populations in our client strategies,” Garbers said. “All in all, COVID-19’s lasting impact will better prepare us and our clients for future pandemics.”

Another key consideration for employers is controlling costs. Taylor said much of the feedback from employers thus far is that their health care spending is down in 2020 because employees have been deferring their elective procedures and routine care amid COVID-19. However, the anticipation is that will catch up with employers in 2021, so it’s worth getting out in front of those upcoming costs.

“Some employers are looking at if telemedicine helps them in this regard,” Taylor said. “People who are deferring their surgeries because of COVID — can they help those people with second opinions to help keep that trend lower in 2021? Thinking about how to set the stage for that and how you package that with annual enrollment is part of that overall strategy.”

Overall, Taylor said employers should identify what their goal is for this open enrollment period and strive to set a course of action that supports that strategy.

“No matter where the employer falls on the spectrum of benefits changes, it’s about how employers can help people think about their benefits differently because of what’s happening in the world,” Taylor said. “There are people with financial pressures right now, so helping people with tools and resources to evaluate their situation and make some different choices, that might be where a lot of employers focus if it’s not the benefits changes themselves.”

About the Author

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Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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