The shift to remote work means that open enrollment is going to look and feel drastically different this year. The good news? Taking things virtual could actually make it easier for employees to understand the benefits you offer.

After all, health benefits are confusing:

  • Only 4 percent of Americans can correctly define deductible, co-pay, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum—key knowledge needed to choose the right health plan
  • More than 90 percent of employees roll over their benefits every year—often to the detriment of their health and finances

Eliminating employee confusion can help employees save money and feel more satisfied with the benefits you offer. Given that over 80 percent of employees say health insurance affects their decision to stay at a job, increasing satisfaction could go a long way toward improving your bottom line.

Enter, COVID-19 and Virtual Health Benefits Fairs

Traditionally, companies use in-person benefits fairs to share their health benefits package and walk through any changes in the new plan year. Benefit fairs also showcase any extras the company offers, like retirement plans and fitness reimbursements. They could be viewed as the Human Resource Department’s “Retention Strategy on Display.”

At first glance, the idea of communicating all this vital information feels overwhelming. Won’t moving an already complex topic online just compound existing confusions?

“Definitely not,” says physician and MyHealthMath Chief Mission Officer, Elizabeth Cote, MD, MPA. “Traditional in-person benefits fairs are losing their effectiveness for modern workers, who, even before the pandemic, increasingly look online for information. This year, we have an opportunity to throw out the old way of doing things and revamp Open Enrollment with a virtual on-demand solution that better educates employees and nudges them to act in their own self-interest. Instead of distributing swag, you’ll give employees thousands of extra dollars in their pocketbooks.”

By moving things online, HR departments can create a one-stop shop for all health benefits information. Along with being mindful of the pandemic, this approach lets employees:

  • Access their benefits fair 24 hours a day at a time that is convenient for them
  • Learn about their benefits at home and engage their family in the experience
  • Easily access online instructions and FAQs, instead of trying to keep track of stacks of printed handouts

If done well, virtual health benefits fairs have the potential to become a new and improved way of engaging with employees during Open Enrollment.

The basics of a virtual health benefits fair:

Virtual health benefits fairs can be incredibly robust and include a variety of different features depending on your budget and needs. At the very least, your virtual health benefits fair should include:

  • A webinar sharing an overview of different health plan options that also highlights any changes in the coming plan year. The live webinar should include time for Q&A and it should be recorded and shared with all employees to watch at their convenience.
  • A website page with key resources, like FAQs and plan information, and instructions on how to opt-in to benefits.

Looking for ways to knock your virtual benefits fair out of the park? Here are five tips to make it a success:

1. Build culture

Many employees feel isolated right now. Companies can combat that isolation and increase employee satisfaction by creating a virtual experience that re-connects employees with your company culture. Start by making sure that all your digital mediums—benefit fair website page(s), webinar recording, related emails—reflect your company’s brand and identity. Include your company logos, colors, and slogans to inspire stability and consistency; and open with a personal note or video from your CEO that describes their commitment to employee health and wellbeing.

When planning the live webinar, consider including a 30-minute virtual coffee hour beforehand. This not only incentivizes attendance, but it gives employees a chance to connect with one another.

Also, keep the fun. Send small incentives to employees who visit your virtual health benefits fair. Employees will appreciate a $10 gift card more than another branded key chain that will likely end up in a drawer. Try a “refer-a-friend lottery” that gives employees a chance to win a prize for every friend they bring along.

2. Communication is key

Remote work has moved in-person conversations to email, which means employees’ inboxes are more clogged up than ever. Getting your employees’ attention will require a smart communications strategy. Here are some tactics to consider:

  • Target your email messages—subject lines, email copy—based on specific employee lifecycles. Benefits will mean different things to different employees depending on where they are in their career. Make sure employee receive emails that speak to their needs and goals.
  • Use plain language whenever possible. Health benefits are already confusing enough, so make sure your communications don’t scare away your audience.
  • Tout savings: At MyHealthMath, we’ve found that employees can save $1,300 on average by choosing a better health plan. Letting employees know what they stand to save can encourage participation.
  • Send time-based email campaigns: There is a fine line between sending helpful reminders and further clogging up your employees’ inboxes. We suggest timing emails based on key dates that build urgency, such as the start of Open Enrollment, the last week of Open Enrollment, and the day before Open Enrollment closes.

3. Personalize the experience

At a typical health benefits fair, employees can get overwhelmed trying to find the right resources and information related to their specific questions. By going virtual, employers can use web-based personalization to get the right resources to employees at the right time.

For example, MyHealthMath’s virtual health benefit fairs include a “choose your own adventure” component where employees respond to a series of questions that then direct them to relevant resources based on their needs. Employers can also add an exit web pop up: when employees are leaving the benefits fair page, the pop up appears and asks if they found everything they need. If the answer is no, they’re directed to relevant resources or an FAQ. These personalization’s can help assure that employees get the support and education they need to choose an optimal health plan.

4. Consider live support

If you have the budget and staff, offering live support through a chat box is a great way to offer timely and personal responses to employee questions. If that’s not possible, there’s still plenty of ways to get employees answers:

  • Consider a chatbot: unlike live chat, a chatbot doesn’t require a real person who’s available 24 hours a day. Instead, employees can chat questions to the bot, which then automatically directs them to resources depending on their answers.
  • Develop a FAQ that connects employees to relevant resources.
  • Include an online form where employees can submit questions. Just be sure to respond to them in 1-2 business days.

5. Provide simple resources on High Deductible Health Plans

Studies show that while health benefits as a whole are confusing, employees are specifically overwhelmed by high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Stress about paying the high deductible and confusion about Health Savings Accounts can cause employees to remain in another plan they think is safer—even though they will pay more in the end.

HDHPs aren’t right for everyone, but employers can help employees choose the right plan by providing HDHP-specific resources, such as side-by-side comparison of the different plan offerings and a guide to health savings accounts with examples of qualifying medical expenses.

Interested in launching a cost-effective and personalized virtual health benefits fair? Learn about MyHealthMath’s easy-to-implement solution.

Looking for more open enrollment employee resources? Download our Open Enrollment Employee Resource Guide. It shares easy-to-understand insurance guidance that will help employees ace open enrollment this year.

*photo cred