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Implementing Interactive Voice Response Benefits Enrollment at OhioHealth Corporation

September 24, 2000
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Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Featured Article
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In early 1996, OhioHealth Corporation (parent for Grant/Riverside MethodistHospitals) of Columbus, Ohio undertook a significant overhaul of its benefitsprogram. With the goal of providing a more understandable benefits program foremployees and a better design for cost planning, human resources decided toimplement a flexible credit benefit design that would fix the budgeted benefitdollar allocated to each employee.

At the same time, there were also changes made to the time off program. Theeffective date for the changes was January 1, 1997.

Previous system

Previous benefit enrollments at OhioHealth were conducted through paperenrollments each fall during the annual enrollment. Human Resource ServiceCenter staff spent nearly two months during October and November collectingpaper enrollment forms, keying the information into the payroll system, sendingon copies to the insurance carriers (for them to key) and then filing the papercopies into employee files.

All told, there were approximately seven HR staff members who spent close to300 man-hours on benefits enrollment alone each fall.

Challenges for vendor

In the spring of 1996, while the final touches were being put on the newbenefit plan design, interactive voice response vendors were sought toimplement a phone enrollment benefit system for the fall enrollment period. Oneof the main challenges for the vendor was that OhioHealth did not have a trueHRMS to collect benefit enrollment data.

Therefore, the vendor would need to develop a system to collect theenrollment information, maintain it in the new flex credit benefit plan designand convert the benefit dollars and individual plan costs into a single payrolldeduction or credit to feed to the company's payroll system. OhioHealthcontracted with a regional IVR specialist to develop such a system.

At the same time, a communications plan was being developed to ensure thatemployees not only understood, but also embraced the sweeping changes. Thisplan started with employee focus groups at each location in the spring of 1996.Employees were shown different plan designs and flexible benefit plan optionsand asked to comment on any concerns or ideas they had.

The results of this focus group were used to help shape a communicationsprogram that would address several issues: an intellectually diverse organizationthat included physicians and foreign-language service staff; employees thatworked varying schedules and shifts; a staff that, for the most part, wereexperiencing technology-based HR for the first time.

Because of the significance of the changes, each benefits-eligible employeewas required to submit an enrollment. Therefore, enrollment packets containinga comprehensive enrollment booklet, a provider directory for the health planand a worksheet with the 800 number and phone codes to be used for theenrollment were mailed to each employee's home. While the cost for postagealone was significant, it was important to mail to homes so that family memberscould also understand the mechanics of the changes.

In concert with the mailing in late October (open enrollment was fromNovember 1 –21), 25 general employee meetings were scheduled duringall shifts, even the weekend. In addition, some satellite offices scheduledspecial employee meetings that included time for one-on-one counseling.

Lessons learned

One of the important lessons learned is that there are limits to today'stechnologies. While the voice response system worked very well, many employeesprocrastinated until the last days of the enrollment period. Even though therewas the equivalent of 72 open phone lines into the voice response system, callvolume in the closing days of the enrollment caused significant downtime.

For that reason, the enrollment period was extended by another week to allowadditional enrollments. NOTE: In hindsight, the better approach would have beena wave enrollment period, where employees were broken up into smaller sets of2,000 and given a shorter enrollment window.

The first set would be given the enrollment window of November 1 – 10. Eachsubsequent set of employees was given an overlapping window (e.g., November 5 –15, November 10 – 21, November 15 – 25) so that call volume would bedistributed more evenly over the entire enrollment period.

In the end, only 206 employees did not complete the enrollment and were defaultedinto certain coverages. While this seems like a large number, it onlyrepresents about 3% of the total population – a 97% success rate.

In the following year, enrollments were only for people who wanted to make achange, so call volume was significantly lighter. The same seven HR assistantsonly logged about 80 man-hours related to the enrollment period. In addition,enrollment materials were now being electronically fed from the IVR vendordirectly to the insurance carriers and deductions did not need to be keyed intothe payroll system.

Over the course of two years, through attrition, the core HR assistant staffwas pared to four resulting in additional salary expense savings.

In review, the keys to success were:

  • Well-written and completecommunication materials


  • The availability of HR staffto help employees make the transition


  • A dedicated IVR vendor whowas able to react quickly and efficiently to issues that arose


  • Top-management's visiblesupport of the new system

Recent Articles by William Dickmeyer, CEBS

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