As anyone with more than a handful of employees knows, enrollment and management of employee benefits is a frequently tedious, time consuming process. Between the constant fight to remain in compliance with HIPAA and other federal and state laws, open-enrollment periods that can keep HR professionals tied up for weeks at a time, and the usual demands of hires, fires and COBRA issues, you have a major man-hours project on your hands.
While good HR is vital, these hours invested don’t represent direct revenue to the company. Anything you can do to streamline your HR operation while still fulfilling the essential functions of the department is a plus.
That’s why more and more employers are turning to automation. Software developers are creating ever more specific solutions to common business problems – and there are now a number of “off-the-shelf” solutions specifically for employee enrollment.
In the right situation, and investment in technology can provide the following benefits for employers:
Decreased costs. Paper forms tie up two workers: The rank and file or management employee who has to fill them out, and then the HR worker or manager who has to instruct the worker in completing the forms, and who must then, in a separate process, enter the information into multiple insurance carrier portals and file them. Automation can save multiple man-hours per enrollment, freeing workers up to do more productive tasks.
Improved compliance. Software packages typically come with high-quality encryption and built-in safeguards against the accidental disclosure of personally identifiable information – a potential felony under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Penalties for even accidental disclosure are steep. And one slip-up accidentally sending the wrong Excel spreadsheet to the wrong person can result in severe consequences for the employer.
Using a well-designed software package can help segregate your employee benefit information from other files, and assist you with stripping out sensitive information in your reports – lowering your liability.
Lower error rate. Employers have been sued over manual input errors, where an HR worker accidentally mis-typed information from a paper form into a computer. By using an automated solution with a built-in employee verification system, you eliminate a significant source of potential error – and protect workers at the same time.
Improved Convenience. Many carriers or providers feature an online portal that employees can use to enroll and make changes in their coverage. For example, BenefitFocus offers a customizable interface that employers can brand with their own logo and company information.
Not only do employees enter their own enrollment information and select options from the benefit menu with a few clicks, but the portal itself streamlines communication with the employee: The employer can place messages, alerts and bulletins concerning their benefits right there on the portal, so employees get the relevant information precisely when they need it: When actively engaged in the process of making enrollment and benefit decisions for themselves and their families. This was the specific solution chosen by the State of North Carolina, which had to scale up their outreach to as many as 400,000 state employees and 270 agencies.
The advantage to employees was substantial. Adoption of an automated system, including an interactive portal, had the following benefits:
- Employees could specify their own language preference.
- Compare plans side-by-side
- Update beneficiaries easily and quickly – without putting HR staff in the middle of the process, creating the possibility of error or delay.
- Initiate changes to benefits themselves – again without tying up HR staff or company management.
- Update personal information
- Watch educational videos.
Improved Services. Automation can help your HR staff be more proactive about reminding workers of upcoming open enrollment and other deadlines: Some programs allow you to enter key deadlines and reminder dates in the system, alerting HR staffers about when it’s time to issue another communique to workers. Who wins? Everyone. Your HR operation becomes more efficient and pro-active. Your workers get more lead time to make important decisions regarding their enrollments.
Connect Workers with Benefits. Some platforms allow workers to log onto a Web platform to handle changes to their own plans. Normally, valuable benefits are “out of sight, out of mind.” But automation allows and encourages workers to get involved with the administration of their own plans, so they can see their value.
Smoother Open Enrollment Processes. Open enrollment doesn’t have to be ‘panic month’ for your HR workers and managers. A well-oiled and automated process can streamline your open enrollment processes tremendously – and reduce their spillover into operations. That means improved productivity for all workers – not just your HR people.
Reduce Paperwork. Online employee portals and in-house, HR-operated solutions both enable paperless, automated communication with plan carriers and vendors. At the same time, the employer’s exposure to HIPAA privacy violation is reduced, simply because there is much less paperwork to find its way into wastebaskets and out of the building, where personally identifiable health information could possibly be compromised.
Prevent Fraud. Some online enrollment portals, including Ebix’s Fringe Facts eEnroll Online solution, include an “audit check” option to verify dependent eligibility. This way, only individuals eligible for coverage are allowed to enroll in the plan, controlling overall plan costs.
More and Better Options. Some companies avoid certain kinds of benefits because they take too much trouble for HR workers to administer. For example, while many employers would love to offer their employees the benefit of flexible savings accounts, 401(k) loans, or a fully-stocked Section 125 “cafeteria” plan with all the fixings, some employers shy away from these options fearing an extensive commitment to ongoing administration. After all, if you offer a 401(k) loan option, or an FSA, you may find that your HR professionals could spend an inordinate amount of time explaining them, handling paperwork, and processing transactions. Some software packages fully automate these processes, allowing the employee to do everything online – leaving your HR workers free to pursue more profitable projects.