Fall is here, and that means benefits open enrollment time is upon us.
This year, open enrollment is an especially important topic for me because, not only am I working on stories about open enrollment, but I just turned 26. My first qualifying event! As I’m researching and asking about the challenges that you employers may be facing, I’m an employee who’s facing certain challenges of her own.
As a generally healthy person with some regular health care costs, these challenges aren’t major, but they are bringing up dozens of questions both trivial and significant about company coverage and benefits offerings. I’m trying to use this personal experience of navigating our benefits system, communicating my questions with our business manager, figuring out how much the new insurance covers doctor’s visits and prescription drug costs and researching if my current doctor is even under this coverage.
I’m trying to navigate this all with the recent knowledge that the company might change health care providers soon, so is it even worth it to look into the current plans if they may not be around in a few weeks? (Update: We are, in fact, changing providers. Welp … .)
Meanwhile, as I prepare to report a long story about health care cost reduction myths, the topic of health care literacy and consumer directed health plans has come up a lot. To what degree can you make people educated, confident health care consumers? More on this later — the topic of health care literacy is big and broad and will require a lot of analysis — but for now I’d just like to bring up a New York Times op-ed about health care consumerism. It’s from a year ago, and I think about it often. An excerpt:
“Health care is much more than a mere consumer item, even if we do spend money to get it. It’s fundamental to our lives. So hear me out. Whether you are a reporter on deadline, an insurance official discussing plans, or someone reviewing your options, just say people should “choose” or “pick” a plan. But whatever you do, don’t conflate the pleasurable experience of real shopping with the dreary task of finding a health insurance plan.”
The new benefits provider came in and explained all the health care options — several HDHPs with HSAs and several PPOs with FSAs. We have a relatively young employee population, and communication of our options is vital. Having a helpline phone number for follow-up with a real person, which I used, was a huge help. I was able to ask questions about my unique situation and the pros and cons of each plan. Even for someone like me who writes about benefits and constantly talks to experts about benefits, health care terminology can be confusing when you’re sitting through a two-hour meeting listening to someone who has a lot of information to go through in a short amount of time.
From my own experience as an employee and as someone who has heard friends complain about benefits enrollment, there’s some obvious but noteworthy advice I have for employers:
- Treat every question with respect and patience, understanding just how daunting health care can be for employees.
- Some employees may feel intimidated to ask them in a group setting. Don’t just refer them to an 800 number. Be patient and answer questions. Yes, obviously those resources can be valuable, but if an employee is coming to you with questions, maybe they need to ask something deeper about a straightforward topic and need to talk things out with an expert at their company who knows the company plan.
- Know there will be follow-up questions. Provide objective information about all options and let them come to you with questions about their own individual situation.
These are my initial thoughts on open enrollment season, especially because I know how significant and confusing this time period can be for employees. Meanwhile, Workforce will publish some further stories on open enrollment in our November issue.
Also, I mentioned something earlier about a package I’m working on about health care cost reduction myths. A few questions for readers in the benefits/health care space as I explore these topics for Workforce: What do you consider the most noteworthy myth in health care cost reduction? What does your company do instead? Any new strategies that seem promising? Thanks for reading, and I’d love to engage with you on any of these topics!