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Employer Best Practices: What is Open Enrollment?

by FrankCrum on July 11, 2023

Navigating the open enrollment process can be complex and challenging for employers, but it is a critical opportunity to empower your employees and offer them the benefits they value. By familiarizing yourself with the details and nuances of open enrollment, you can optimize your benefits program, enhance employee satisfaction, and foster a positive working environment.

In this article, we will explore the core components of open enrollment, including its purpose, features, the various benefits and challenges associated with this period, and how PEOs can help employers navigate this often-challenging time. By providing employers with a comprehensive understanding of open enrollment, we aim to equip you with the tools and insights to navigate this critical process confidently and successfully.

What is Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment refers to a period during which individuals can enroll in or make changes to their health insurance plans or employee benefits. It is typically a set timeframe, usually occurring once a year. During this period, individuals can choose or switch their health insurance coverage or make changes to their existing coverage.

Open enrollment is commonly offered by employers to their employees, allowing them to review and modify their benefits package. This may include health insurance, dental and vision coverage, life insurance, disability insurance, and other benefits provided by the employer. The specific dates and duration of the open enrollment period can vary depending on the employer.

For individuals not covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, there is also an open enrollment period for purchasing health insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). During this period, individuals can explore different health insurance options, compare plans, and select the one that best suits their needs.

It's important to note that outside of the open enrollment period, individuals can typically only enroll in or make changes to their health insurance plans if they experience a qualifying life event such as getting married, having a baby, losing other coverage, or moving to a new area. These events trigger a special enrollment period during which individuals can change their health insurance coverage outside of the regular open enrollment period.

What is the Difference Between Open Enrollment and New Enrollment?

The difference between open and new enrollment lies in the timing and circumstances under which individuals can enroll in or change their health insurance or employee benefits plans.

Open Enrollment: Open enrollment refers to a specific period, typically once a year, during which individuals already enrolled in a plan can review, modify, or select their coverage options for the upcoming year. This opportunity is available to current plan participants and allows them to change their benefits elections, switch plans, or add or remove dependents. Open enrollment is not tied to any specific life event and is generally available to all eligible individuals associated with the plan.

New Enrollment: On the other hand, new enrollment is typically associated with specific life events or qualifying circumstances that make an individual eligible to enroll in or make changes to their health insurance or benefits plan outside of the regular open enrollment period. These life events can include getting married, having a baby, adopting a child, losing previous coverage, or experiencing a significant change in employment status. New enrollment typically has a time limit (such as 30 or 60 days) from the qualifying life event to enroll in or make changes to the plan.

What Are the Essential Components of a Successful Open Enrollment Plan?

The essential components of a successful open enrollment plan may vary depending on an organization’s specific needs. However, here are some common aspects to consider:

1. Comprehensive Communication Strategy: A well-planned communication strategy is crucial to ensure employees are informed about the open enrollment process, important dates, available benefits, and any changes from the previous year. This may include emails, newsletters, informational sessions, webinars, and personalized communication channels.

2. Clear and Accessible Plan Information: Providing clear, concise, and easily accessible information about benefit options, plan details, coverage levels, costs, and any changes is essential. This can be done through online portals, benefits guides, FAQs, and interactive tools.

3. Employee Education and Support: Offering educational resources, such as workshops, webinars, and one-on-one counseling sessions, can help employees understand their benefits, make informed decisions, and maximize their coverage. Accessible support channels, like a dedicated helpline or online chat, can address employee questions and concerns.

4. Streamlined Enrollment Process: Simplifying the enrollment process by using online platforms, mobile-friendly interfaces, and user-friendly tools can enhance the employee experience. This includes easy navigation, pre-filled data, and clear instructions to complete the enrollment process efficiently.

5. Compliance and Legal Considerations: Ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or other local requirements, is crucial. Staying up to date with legal changes, providing required notices, and following proper documentation and reporting procedures is essential.

6. Data Management and Reporting: Establishing systems and processes to collect, manage, and analyze enrollment data is vital. This enables organizations to assess participation rates, evaluate plan effectiveness, identify trends, and make informed decisions for future open enrollments.

What Best Practices Should Employers Follow for a Smooth Open Enrollment Process?

Employers can follow several best practices to ensure a smooth open enrollment process. Some key recommendations include:

  • Start Planning Early: Prepare for open enrollment well in advance to allow ample time for communication, system setup, and addressing potential challenges. Establish a timeline and allocate resources accordingly.
  • Communicate Clearly and Frequently: Develop a comprehensive communication strategy to inform employees about the upcoming open enrollment. Use various channels such as emails, newsletters, intranet, and employee meetings to deliver clear, concise, and consistent messages.
  • Provide Easy-to-Understand Information: Offer easily accessible and understandable materials that explain benefit options, plan details, costs, and any changes from the previous year. Use plain language and visual aids to enhance comprehension.
  • Educate and Engage Employees: Conduct educational sessions or webinars to help employees understand their benefits, navigate the enrollment process, and make informed choices. Encourage questions and provide personalized support to address individual concerns.
  • Leverage Technology: Utilize online enrollment platforms and self-service tools to streamline the enrollment process. Ensure that the technology is user-friendly, mobile-responsive, and offers support for employees who need assistance.
  • Ensure Compliance: Stay current with relevant laws and regulations related to benefits and open enrollment. Adhere to reporting requirements, provide necessary notices, and ensure privacy and data security compliance.

While these best practices are commonly recommended, it's important to tailor them to your organization and consult with HR professionals or benefits consultants for guidance. Their expertise and knowledge of industry-specific requirements can further enhance the effectiveness of your open enrollment process.

How Does Open Enrollment Benefit Employers and Employees?

Open enrollment serves as a critical period that brings a multitude of benefits to both employers and employees. Understanding the benefits of open enrollment empowers employers and employees to make informed decisions that meet their unique needs and preferences. Let's delve into the advantages of open enrollment to employers and employees.

Benefits for Employers:

Employee Satisfaction and Retention: Open enrollment allows employees to select benefits that meet their individual needs. Offering a range of options can increase employee satisfaction and engagement, leading to higher retention rates.

Competitive Advantage: Providing a comprehensive benefits package through open enrollment can enhance an employer's competitiveness in attracting top talent. It demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being and can differentiate your organization from competitors. In fact, more than three-quarters of employees state that a benefits package is important in their decision to accept or decline a job.

Cost Control and Budgeting: Open enrollment enables employers to assess benefit costs, make adjustments, and plan their budgets accordingly. It offers an opportunity to evaluate benefit utilization and explore cost-saving measures.

Compliance: Open enrollment ensures employers adhere to legal requirements, such as allowing eligible employees to enroll in health insurance plans as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the United States.

Benefits for Employees:

Customized Benefits: Open enrollment allows employees to choose benefits tailored to their specific needs, such as health insurance plans, dental coverage, retirement plans, and more, such as ancillary benefits. It provides an opportunity to access the benefits that align with their personal circumstances.

Flexibility and Choice: Employees can explore different benefit options during open enrollment, allowing them to select the coverage levels, deductibles, and provider networks that best suit their preferences and financial circumstances.

Health and Well-being: Open enrollment provides employees access to healthcare and wellness programs that promote their overall health and well-being. It may include preventive services, mental health support, gym memberships, and other wellness initiatives.

Financial Security: By enrolling in retirement plans, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), or health savings accounts (HSAs) during open enrollment, employees can enhance their financial security, reduce their tax burden, and manage expenses more effectively.

Please note that the specific benefits of open enrollment may vary depending on a lot of factors and circumstances. It's recommended to consult reputable HR resources, benefits providers, or government websites in your specific country or region for more detailed information on open enrollment benefits for employers and employees.

What Are Some Common Challenges Employers Face During Open Enrollment?

Employers may encounter several challenges during the open enrollment process. Here are some common ones:

  • Communication and Employee Engagement: Effectively communicating complex benefit information, changes, and deadlines to employees can be challenging. High employee engagement and participation levels require strategic communication efforts and targeted messaging.
  • Limited Understanding of Benefits: Employees may struggle to understand the intricacies of different benefit options, coverage levels, and associated costs. Lack of awareness and comprehension can lead to suboptimal benefit choices or decision paralysis.
  • Compliance with Legal Requirements: Employers need to navigate and comply with various legal requirements, such as providing the necessary notices, adhering to enrollment deadlines, and ensuring compliance with applicable regulations like the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  • Data Management and Administration: Handling a large volume of employee data, ensuring accuracy, and maintaining privacy and security can pose challenges. Coordinating with insurance providers, tracking employee elections, and managing ongoing benefits administration can be time-consuming.
  • Technology and System Integration: Employers may face difficulties in integrating their benefits administration systems with various platforms, such as HRIS, payroll, and insurance carrier portals. Ensuring seamless data flow and system compatibility can be a complex task.
  • Employee Questions and Support: During the open enrollment period, employees may have numerous questions and require assistance in understanding their options and making informed decisions. Providing prompt and accurate support can be demanding, especially for HR teams with limited resources.
  • Compliance with Budgetary Constraints: Balancing the desire to offer competitive benefits while staying within budget can be challenging. Employers need to evaluate benefit costs and cost-sharing strategies and negotiate with insurance providers to maintain financial sustainability.
  • Changing Benefit Landscape: Keeping up with evolving benefit trends, new plan offerings, and regulatory changes can be daunting. Employers must stay informed about industry developments and evaluate how they impact their benefit offerings.

To address these challenges, employers can leverage effective communication strategies, offer employee education and resources, seek assistance from benefits consultants, utilize technology solutions, and stay updated with relevant regulations. By proactively addressing these challenges, employers can navigate the open enrollment process more smoothly and enhance the overall experience for their employees.

How Do PEOs Help Employers with Open Enrollment?

Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) can provide valuable assistance to employers during open enrollment. Here's how PEOs can help:

1. Expertise and Guidance: PEOs have experienced HR professionals who understand the complexities of open enrollment. They can provide guidance and expertise in designing benefit plans, selecting appropriate options, and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations.

2. Benefit Plan Administration: PEOs can handle the administrative tasks associated with open enrollment, such as enrollment data management, eligibility verification, and employee communications. They can streamline the process and alleviate the administrative burden from the employer's HR team.

3. Access to Multiple Benefit Options: PEOs often have established relationships with multiple insurance carriers and providers. They can offer a wide range of benefit options, including health insurance, retirement plans, and other voluntary benefits. This allows employers to provide their employees with more choices and flexibility during open enrollment.

4. Cost Control and Negotiation: PEOs leverage their collective buying power to negotiate competitive rates with insurance carriers. They can help employers manage benefit costs by identifying cost-saving strategies, analyzing utilization data, and exploring alternative plan structures.

5. Compliance Support: PEOs stay up to date with ever-changing regulations, such as those related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They can assist employers in ensuring compliance with applicable laws, preparing required documentation, and navigating complex compliance issues during open enrollment.

6. Employee Education and Communication: PEOs can provide educational resources, communication templates, and tools to help employers effectively communicate employee benefits options. They can assist in conducting employee meetings, webinars, or workshops to ensure employees understand their choices and make informed decisions.

7. Technology Solutions: PEOs often offer advanced HR technology platforms that streamline the open enrollment process. These platforms may include online enrollment portals, benefits administration systems, and employee self-service tools. Employers can benefit from automated processes, real-time reporting, and improved data accuracy.

It's important to note that the extent of services provided by PEOs may vary. Employers should assess their specific needs, compare PEO offerings, and ensure alignment with their open enrollment requirements. Consulting with a reputable PEO and reviewing their services in detail can help employers determine the level of support and benefits they can expect during open enrollment.

In conclusion, open enrollment is a critical period for employers to provide employees with the opportunity to select benefits that meet their individual needs. By understanding the process and challenges associated with open enrollment, employers can effectively communicate, engage, and support their employees in making informed decisions about their benefits.

Employers can ensure a successful open enrollment experience that enhances employee well-being, retention, and overall organizational success by prioritizing employee satisfaction, competitive advantage, cost control, compliance, and streamlined administration.

At FrankCrum, our mission is to help businesses become the best they can be. To learn more about our comprehensive services, contact us today.


FrankCrum is a professional employer organization (PEO), founded in 1981 dedicated to helping business owners boost HR capabilities and broaden convenient services and benefits to employees. The origin of FrankCrum dates back to 1981, when Frank W. Crum, Jr. and his father, Frank Crum, Sr., founded the Great American Temporary Service. With a passion for helping small business owners succeed, the company has evolved and grown over several decades.