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  • Writer's pictureMike Riska

Open Enrollment Season is Almost Here, What's Different This Year?

For everyone in the benefits business, the fourth quarter is by far the busiest time of the year. It's open enrollment season and it always seems to sneak up on you. All during September I hear a lot of "Can you believe it's almost fourth quarter already?" in the same tones that people use to talk about how fast their kids grew up.

Well it's here and this year is going to be very different. Since I started this blog soon after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I thought I'd take a look back at some of the articles I wrote that point out some of the ways this year's open enrollment season will be different than any other we can remember.

Different Enrollment Methods

My first couple of blogs were about how we had to rapidly adapt to a world where face-to-face enrollment wasn't going to be an option. We were already well positioned for remote enrollment, but many of our group benefit broker partners needed help fast. We quickly packaged a set of "virtual" enrollment services to support them and I wrote an article about how to conduct a virtual employee benefits enrollment.

Virtual enrollment is going to be the standard for Q4 2020. Face-to-face enrollments are happening here and there, mostly for employee populations that meet and work outside. But I'm projecting that more than 90% of our enrollments at the end of the year will involve zero face-to-face interaction.

Different Employee Concerns

One thing every open enrollment has in common is that it's a time for benefits professionals to educate employees about their benefits, and for employees to make choices about how they protect themselves and their families with those benefits. A big difference this year is the shift in what concerns are top of mind for employees. Big questions on everyone's mind in the age of Covid-19 are What if I get sick? What if I have to go to the hospital? What if I have to go to the ICU?

The good news is that if an employer has a relatively standard mix of core and voluntary benefits these concerns can be addressed. I wrote about how voluntary benefits work with a Covid-19 diagnosis earlier this year. At this year's open enrollments, group benefit brokers, business owners and HR professionals will want to emphasize how existing benefits address these concerns and they'll want to consider adding new benefits that help the company's benefits package better address them.

Different Benefit Strategies

Any enrollment we do involves our broker and carrier partners, and they have had major adjustments to make this year too. I wrote a little about how Covid-19 is impacting voluntary benefit carrier claims and some of my articles covered carriers' move toward developing products that specifically address Covid-19 claims, and the ways they're emphasizing how some of their existing products already provide protection.

From our broker partners, we've gotten a lot of questions and requests about how to use voluntary benefits in a company's Covid-19 strategy. Many of the questions have focused not just on employees in general, but on some of the more specific questions about how to minimize risk in today's labor environment: What should we be doing for essential and front line workers? What should we be doing for workers transitioning back to the physical workplace?

There are some strategies that you can bring into play here and I wrote about how to protect returning workers and essential employees with them. Many of our broker partners will be introducing these strategies to clients this Q4 and we'll be right there with them educating employers and HR professionals and then educating and enrolling employees at open enrollment.

Different But Also The Same

In a lot of ways fourth quarter open enrollments will be different this year because of the changes to how we work and think about benefits due to Covid-19. But much of it will be familiar too. For those of us in the benefits business our workload will be heavier, our stress level will be higher and we'll be doing our best to do a great job for our partners and clients without letting the cracks show. And then it will all be over and will slowly fade from memory until it's time to do it again next year.

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