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Top 5 ways the pandemic is changing open enrollment

The 2021 open enrollment period promises to be uniquely complex for employers—and for good reason. It would be only fitting to start with the elephant in the room, i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to affect our work weeks and forces us to devote countless hours and dollars to pandemic-related adjustments. Then there are the usual challenges of cost control, benefit value, employee retention and the growing need for flexibility should we see another unknown challenge.

The pandemic and other challenges are sure to be a minefield for employer groups navigating their benefit offering in the coming months. In this blog series, we will take a closer look at some of these hurdles and how they might lend some insight into choosing a plan leading up to open enrollment.

Here are five healthcare topics CEOs, benefit managers and HR teams are considering as they look to shore up their benefit portfolios for the post-pandemic economy.

  1. Keeping Employees Healthy

    What many may not realize about the impact of the pandemic on employee health, is that employees postponed needed healthcare treatment, which can result in additional complications as a result of the delayed care. According to a study in JAMA Cardiology, severe illness and mortality are on the rise from causes such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This research indicates that deaths from heart disease alone are up nearly 25,000 this year compared to non-pandemic years.

  2. The Growing Value of Workplace Benefits

    Another big shift due to the pandemic is how employees are viewing benefits. Research from The Hartford—which polled U.S. workers, human resources and benefits decision makers in early March, just before the COVID-19 outbreak in this country, and again in mid-June—found that, when asked to rate their organization’s overall benefits package compared with what other employers are offering in their marketplace, only 44% now rate their benefits as above average, compared to 56% pre-pandemic. This means employees are looking for competitive benefit packages with helpful tools and resources to keep them healthy.

  3. The Importance of Health & Wellness

    According to Health Payer Intelligence, the COVID-19 pandemic may be having a negative effect on Americans’ exercise life. “Wellness is key,” says Kathryn Mayer, chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. “The health and wellness of employees is the No. 1 priority for employers right now. And if it is not, then those companies have some changes to make. While the pandemic is bringing to light several challenges for organizations, prioritizing employees’ health, safety and wellness are most vital.” Employers who encourage and incentivize healthy behaviors and decisions will be rewarded with a more productive workforce.

  4. Flexibility in Healthcare Plans

    Businesses are quickly learning that there is no simple solution to meeting the ever-changing health and wellness needs of employees. Are premiums and out-of-pocket costs important? Yes. Are employees looking for ways to protect their paycheck and also protect themselves? Absolutely. Will telehealth play an increasingly important role in providing both? Without a doubt. The changing nature of the current environment calls attention to the changing nature of needs. Employers are increasingly being offered greater flexibility during this uncertainty. Smart businesses are focusing on engaging their employees in their medical plan benefits as well as gaining greater understanding of which ancillary coverage they see as helpful.

  5. Technology Enabling Consumer-Driven Healthcare Outcomes

    More employers are seeking healthcare plans offering new technology-driven solutions that help employees support their own health and wellbeing, manage chronic conditions and better navigate the healthcare system—all while trying to keep their distance and stay safe. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield offers a virtual diabetes program to eligible members. Onduo is a comprehensive program for those with type 2 diabetes. In addition to tools for self-monitoring blood glucose, the employee has access to a care team of coaches, certified educators and doctors. All from the comfort of home on their phone.

Healthcare plans are at the forefront of creating a better culture of health, providing customer-centric benefits that reduce uncertainty and improve the health of employees and their families are more important now than ever—and more complicated than we ever imagined. And choosing the right partner has never been more important.