This post is part of a series sponsored by AgentSync.
Open enrollment season for benefits, both employer-sponsored and private, is approaching. Brush up on some best practices to make the season run smoother at your independent agency.
For insurance agents who work with benefits, the beginning of autumn means more than pumpkin spice everything. It̵7;s also the start of annual open enrollment periods across the United States
While some pension plans renew outside of the traditional period — with odd renewal dates ranging from February 1 to July 1 or later — the vast majority of health insurance plans renew on January 1 of each year. This applies to most employer-sponsored group benefit plans and those found in state and federal insurance marketplaces. This means that from October 1 it is open for registration!
Across the wide world of insurance, benefits are a niche that not all manufacturers are licensed to sell. But if you’re one of the estimated 138,682 licensed health insurance agents in the United States, we know your world gets extremely busy until mid-December. Whether you currently sell benefits, are considering a move to benefits, or support producers who sell benefits, we hope these open enrollment best practices will help you this season.
Also, in honor of open enrollment season and those of you who love benefits as much as we do, we’re starting a three-part series covering the history of health insurance benefits (past, present and future). Stay tuned for the first part, coming soon.
What is open enrollment?
Open enrollment is an annual opportunity for plan members to make changes to their benefits without any type of special qualifying circumstances. Most commonly, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance and health insurance have annual open enrollment periods. This is especially true for group plans and employer-sponsored plans.
Why is open enrollment important to plan members?
Open enrollment is important to individuals and plan members because it is their chance to reevaluate their benefits and make changes for the coming year. This can include switching to a different priced health plan, choosing coverage they didn’t have before, reducing coverage they currently have, or increasing coverage amounts for benefits such as life insurance. Outside of open enrollment, these types of changes are not allowed without a specific “qualifying life event” such as getting married, divorcing, changing jobs, or having children (among others).
Why do insurance agents and carriers care about open enrollment?
Open enrollment is important to insurance companies and insurance agents because it is a time when they have great earning potential. How so? First, as health insurance costs continue to rise, licensed health insurance producers can increase their commissions through increased sales. On top of that, employers are trying to find new ways to attract and stimulate an increasingly burned-out workforce, adding new benefits to open enrollment, which can represent significant revenue potential for carriers and agents alike.
How to Prepare for Open Enrollment
Start early with a benefits review
Whether your client is an individual or a large employer purchasing benefits for their employees, it pays to start looking at options early. For people like you who help buy health insurance in the health insurance marketplace, it can be as simple as a quick phone call to see how they liked their coverage this year and if they found any gaps they’d like to address by changing plans.
You can ask if they thought their coverage was affordable and help them look for alternatives if it wasn’t. You can even use this opportunity to educate your customers on how they can save money and walk them through options they may not have previously considered, such as choosing a qualified high-deductible health plan along with opening a health savings account.
For group coverage, you’ll need to spend a little more time and you’ll probably need to compile proposals and proposals for different plans for different health insurance companies to address group usage and costs. If you have multiple group benefit customers, it becomes even more important to start early to ensure they can select plans in time to properly communicate any changes to group members.
Communicate benefit options and market benefits to plan participants
The benefits are complex and difficult for most people to understand. Because open enrollment is the only time most people make choices and changes to their benefits in an entire year, it’s important they understand their options.
If you work with employer-sponsored benefit plans:
- It is very important that plan members (employees and their dependents) understand the value of their benefits as part of the total compensation package.
- You can help your group benefit customers educate and communicate with their plan members by providing benefit enrollment guides, collecting collateral from insurance companies, and holding live Q&A meetings.
- It may take several times and several methods to adequately communicate benefits to employees. Make sure your communication strategy includes mail, e-mail, web, video, audio, written and in-person options for at least a couple of months so that everyone has an opportunity to absorb the information before it’s time to sign up.
If you work with individuals who purchase health insurance in the marketplace or through nonmarket plans:
- Depending on the geographic region, some people will have an overwhelming number of choices while others will have very limited choices. Both situations come with their own challenges.
- Consumers may not realize that they can access your expert help at no cost to them. When you purchase a plan on the Marketplace, the price for the plan member does not increase regardless of whether you purchase it through a licensed agent.
- People may not realize the types of subsidies they qualify for, overestimating the cost of a health plan in the marketplace and avoiding buying the coverage they need.
Your role as a benefits broker or representative is that of an advisor and trainer as well as a salesperson. We know open enrollment can be lucrative, but remember that the best way to ensure a long-term successful relationship with your individual and group benefits customers is to help them understand what they need and how the benefits you’re selling will actually impact their lives.
Leverage technology to help your customers and their employees during the annual open enrollment period
As the saying goes: Work smarter, not harder. There are many ways to lighten your load during the open enrollment season by using technology. It probably won’t surprise you that this is one of our best practices, as we at AgentSync are a little obsessed with automating manual processes and modernizing the insurance industry. Here are just a few ways being technologically forward in your open enrollment practices can speed things up, reduce errors, and result in a great user experience for your benefit customers and every plan member.
Take advantage of an online benefit registration system
Asking people to complete anything with paper and pencil is probably a pointless exercise in 2022. Online benefits enrollment systems guide people through their options, prevent enrollment errors, and can even offer built-in training about the benefits offerings. Even better if your clients can implement a system that integrates with their current HR and payroll systems. Depending on what they use (Workday or Rippling, for example), some HR systems include benefits as a core feature.
Use video and web conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings
Helping employees understand their employer’s health plan and other benefit offerings is a noble undertaking. But you don’t have to repeat yourself until you lose your voice for the sake of education! Studies show that nearly half of employees say video is the most engaging form of communication at work. Recording a video presentation and being on hand to answer questions is a great use of technology that will make your open enrollment season less painful.
Whether you’re doing a completely pre-recorded video or a live webinar that’s also recorded for future reference, both options allow you to maximize your impact while minimizing your time. Just remember that if you go this route, it’s important that your message is tailored to the group you’re speaking to and not overly generic, otherwise it loses its value. It’s also important to give people the chance to ask questions, which is why a live Q&A after a recorded video can be the best of both worlds.
Ready, set, sign up!
Armed with these best practices, we hope you’re ready to dive into open enrollment season. Be sure to check out our upcoming benefits history blogs if you’re looking for some educational reading in between benefit registration sessions.
If you’re interested in best practices not just for open enrollment, but for managing the entire producer licensing process, see how AgentSync can help.