Open enrollment is an incredibly stressful time for many employees. Employees are making important choices about their benefits and these choices will impact their care and finances for the next year.
With that comes the additional stress of knowing that missing the open enrollment window can mean losing coverage or not being able to control and adjust those vital financial decisions. From the employer perspective, missed enrollment deadlines can result in employee stress and major administrative burdens as employers work to meet compliance standards and handle even more paperwork.
The Importance of the Open Enrollment Period
The open enrollment period is important because it is one of the few times you can make changes to many of your employer provided benefits. It is of the utmost importance that employees do not miss their open enrollment, but it is also important that employers understand how missing that window can impact the business. A good strategy is to communicate those potential consequences to employees.
Legally, employers do not owe any duty to employees who have missed the open enrollment deadline. In some cases, the terms of a benefit plan may prohibit exceptions being made for employees that did not make benefit elections in the appropriate window of time.
Special Concerns of Employers and Employees
Typically, the enrollment period runs from November to early December, so new benefit elections take effect at the start of the new year. There is one exception to this timeline: employees who qualify for a special enrollment period.
Employees who experience qualifying life-changing events, such as marriage, divorce/legal separation, having/adopting a child, or moving to a new residence of work location, may see and impact to their benefits eligibility and, therefore, the individual may make changes to their benefit selections outside of the open enrollment period.
Applicable large employers, or ALEs, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have an additional set of concerns. An ALE must offer affordable, minimum-essential coverage to their full-time employees. Failure to do so could result in an employer shared responsibility penalty. If an employer offers appropriate coverage to their employees they will not be subject to the penalty, regardless of whether their employees elect to enroll in the coverage or not?
Here are some quick tips on how an employer may cover their bases and keep open enrollment compliant and simplified for employees:
- Document what coverage has been offered.
- Communicate open enrollment dates on all employee platforms.
- Require employees to sign an acknowledgment of benefits form or a waiver of coverage form, depending on whether they opt in or out or miss the deadline for enrollment.
- Focus on creating a uniform policy, allowing for those special cases when employees miss open enrollment.
- Offer benefits education to employees prior to and during the open enrollment period.
- Get feedback from employees on ways to improve the entire process.
As is the case with any aspect of a business, taking an active and enthusiastic role in the benefit enrollment period can leave you feeling prepared while also smoothing over the process for employees.
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