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By Linda Jackson Jones

For most companies, open enrollment is a 30-day period in which employees have the opportunity to select their benefits for the next year.

Making an informed decision about which health plan to select is critical for employees, but it can be a little overwhelming, especially if there are several plans to choose from. To assist employees in their decision-making process, it may be helpful to hold a series of on-site open enrollment meetings. These meetings provide a forum for employees to meet with a representative from the health insurance carrier to discuss details about each available plan and ask questions.

The key to planning a successful open enrollment campaign is preparation, preparation, preparation. If you plan ahead and enlist assistance from your health benefits company, you can offer employees an educational campaign that will equip them with the information they need to select the best health plan for them.

So many choices

The first step is to determine the health benefits options that will be available. The plans that you offer to employees may change from year to year.

Prior to open enrollment, many employers revisit their health plan package to make sure they are getting the most for their company's health benefits dollars.

Whether you select a new health insurance carrier or renew with your existing one, be sure to find a plan that packages core medical benefits with additional services designed to improve health andreduce costs. For instance, ask your health benefits company if it has a disease management program to help employees with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Typically these programs provide employees with tools and instructions to help them monitor their health status and manage their disease to a point where health risks are as minimal as possible. Participation in disease management programs can also help employees avoid costly hospital admissions and reduce your bottom line.

Set the agenda

Once you have determined the health benefits plans that will be available to your employees, it is time to develop an agenda for open enrollment. An effective open enrollment campaign should do more than simply inform employees of their health benefits options; it should also educate them on how to get the most from their health benefits plan.

Open enrollment is a great time to inform employees about cost-effective options that are built into their health plan. These options can significantly reduce an employee's out-of-pocket expenses, but often employees don't know they exist. For instance, with many plans, receiving services from an urgent care center for a nonlife-threatening illness or injury (such as a minor cut, cold or insect bite) may be cheaper than receiving the same services at a hospital.

Open enrollment is also a good time to educate employees on the importance of a healthy lifestyle and make them aware of any worksite wellness programs. If the available health benefits plans feature discounts on fitness club memberships or complementary and alternative medicine therapies, be sure that this information is made available to employees.

Promotion, promotion, promotion

The final step to a successful campaign is to communicate the schedule of open enrollment meetings to your employees and encourage their participation. If your company has a newsletter, include the meeting schedule in it. E-mail is a good communication tool; you may also want to consider posting signs.

Open enrollment does not have to be a stressful time for you or your employees. With the proper planning and assistance from your health benefits company, you can conduct a successful campaign that educates employees so that they select a health plan that makes sense for their health care needs and budget.

About The Author

Linda Jackson Jones has more than 16 years of experience in the health care industry. She has been with the company since 1994. As manager of account services, she is responsible for membership growth and retention of small and large employer groups. Reach her at linda.jackson-jones@vistahealthplan.com. © 2005 Smart Business Network Inc. Reprinted from the June 2005 issue of Smart Business Broward/Palm Beach.


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