According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about half of the country’s total population gets their health insurance through their employers. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Individual & Family Plan (IFP) marketplace open enrollment begins November 1 and continues until January 15 in most states (through January 31 in California), for group coverage, it’s the employer’s decision that determines when open enrollment starts and when coverage begins . . . subject, of course, to any carrier limitations.
A majority of employers have “calendar year benefits” that begin January 1 and continue through December 31. That typically means an open enrollment in November or early December, although it can start sooner.
A large number of employers also have near-calendar-year benefits with a December 1, February 1, or March 1, effective date. (For some businesses, their health insurance start date mirrors their fiscal year.) For those businesses, the open enrollment is often in October or November, December or January, or January or February.
With so much quoting and enrollment happening in the fourth quarter and early first quarter, right now is truly “peak season” for a majority of health insurance brokers.
So, you may be asking, “What can I do to make peak season go more smoothly?” or “What tips and ideas can Word & Brown share?” Here are some frequently asked questions and answers.
What Happens During Open Enrollment?
Open Enrollment is the annual period during which all of your clients’ eligible employees can enroll for new Medical or other coverage starting on the employer’s selected effective date.
The Open Enrollment may include small or large meetings with employees to explain to them their new or updated insurance options. Some brokers like to present on their own; others utilize enrollees; some enlist the help of Word & Brown with their groups’ enrollments. In California, we even offer bilingual enrollment assistance. (Ask your rep for details.)
During the past couple of years, some brokers have moved to presenting and enrolling online, in response to COVID-19 and a limited ability to see clients in-person. Word & Brown can also help here; if you are interested, contact your Word & Brown representative for more information.
Outside of the annual Open Enrollment period, some employees may experience a “qualifying life event” that gives them a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) to make changes to their coverage. Triggers for an SEP include marriage, divorce, childbirth or adoption, loss of eligibility for coverage, change in residence, death of a household member, and other reasons. (More information on “qualifying events” can be found on the Investopedia web page.)
Is It Better to Have One or Multiple Enrollments When Medical and Other Products Are Offered?
That’s up to you and your clients. Some employers like to enroll all products at one time. Others may prefer a staggered approach, with Major Medical addressed in an all-employee meeting (or online presentation) and smaller in-person, video, or Zoom presentations for Ancillary products, including Dental, Vision, and Supplemental Health (like Accident, Hospital Indemnity, etc.).
How Valuable Are Employee Benefits to Workers – and Employers?
There’s little question that the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic insecurity created by it have caused many Americans to reconsider the importance of health insurance and other employee benefits. MetLife’s 19th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Survey in 2021 found that employees are looking to their employers to help safeguard them from physical, financial, and other risks. Workers are placing more value on “feeling safe, protected, and prepared across all areas of well-being.” Seventy-two percent say safety and protection are more important than ever before.
Worker surveys by MetLife, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and others have repeatedly found great appreciation of benefits by workers. Benefits help instill employee loyalty, and they can help employers attract and retain top talent. One study found 30% of employees will reject a job offer if the benefits don’t meet their expectations. Another found 80% of employees would stay with an employer offering benefits rather than move to one that didn’t – even if the second employer offered increased pay. Benefits can help an employer stand out, and by offering a broad range of insurance and other benefits to your clients (like those available through Word & Brown), you can help your clients reduce their turnover and increase employee satisfaction.
How Can You Streamline Your Clients’ Open Enrollment?
The insurance market has changed a lot, and so has the technology available to help you with your clients and your business. Word & Brown and its partners offer a range of software and related apps and tools to make your job easier, including those highlighted below.
WBQuote: Quote with the most advanced quoting engine in the industry. WBQuote gives you an easy way to compare carriers and plans, view rate differences, and select the plans that best fits your clients’ – and their employees’ – diverse needs. If you want a faster, lighter way to quote, WBQuote Lite lets you quote anytime, anywhere. You can also customize your output, with a quote that represents you and your brand – adding your logo and your client’s company logo – and export in PDF, Excel, or PowerPoint.
WBBroker: Now it’s possible for you to carry your entire Word & Brown portfolio in your pocket, with the tech you need in one powerful program. WBBroker combines guaranteed-accurate quoting, medical provider searches, and real-time underwriting updates to help you better manage your business. (Link here to watch the WBBroker video on YouTube, or learn more on the Word & Brown website.)
WBMedID: This Word & Brown mobile app gives your California groups with coverage from Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, or Health Net the ability to access their Medical ID Card information right on their smartphones. It’s easy for employees to enroll using their name, home ZIP Code, and date of birth. They’ll have instant access to ID Card info as soon as their coverage begins. Ask your rep for details.
Integrated Provider and Rx Search: You can instantly search, confirm, and build quotes with the doctors, medical groups, and hospitals your clients want. Our technology uses the latest carrier data, so you have instant access to information when looking up providers available with each of the plans your clients may be considering. Plus, our integrated solutions allow you to input a new provider or update a newly requested provider.
Mineral HR: Be a hero to your clients by offering them free Human Resources support from Mineral (formerly known as Mammoth/ThinkHR). It’s now easier to make census data changes, including adding or deleting employees and dependents, changing an address, or making other updates. Mineral also includes a complimentary suite of powerful online tools and resources.
Online Enrollment and HRIS: We know the value of Online Enrollment (OLE) and Human Resource Information System (HRIS) technology. It can dramatically streamline your clients’ benefits enrollment – and their ongoing HR management. Our partners offer an array of advantages to help you and your clients manage OLE, payroll, HR, and benefits.
New Hire Worksheets: Quickly add employee, plan, and contribution information to create a single Worksheet in your choice of six languages – or amend a Master Census. You’ll save time by calculating the right rates based on each new hire’s available plan(s) and carrier(s) – providing better service for all.
To learn more about Word & Brown’s industry-leading technology, contact your Word & Brown representative or visit the Broker Resources section of our website.
Help in Q4 – and All Year Long
Q4 is a busy time of year. However, working with Word & Brown, you can make peak season more manageable. We are your Q4 headquarters. We offer brokers a wealth of resources, including enrollment kits, information on underwriting, top Q4 documents, customizable marketing materials, and some smooth grooves to help you get through the season’s challenges. Visit our Q4 Command Center here.
Don’t overlook the other benefits of working with us – during Q4, peak season, and all year:
- Full product and service portfolio
- Side-by-side comparisons with highlighted plan differences
- Built-in safeguards to prevent quoting errors and ensure rate accuracy
- In-house compliance experts to answer questions from you and your clients
- 24/7 online documents and forms plus our exclusive Health Plan Reference Guides
- CE classes and other training – online and in-person
- COBRA and POP services for eligible groups
- Newsletters, emails, webinars, and podcasts to help you up to date
- Round-the-clock assistance from industry professionals committed to your success
We’ve been a valuable partner to brokers for more than 35 years. We are here for you, too. Contact your Word & Brown rep, or if you’re not already doing business with us, call or email any of our six regional marketing centers in California or Nevada. No other General Agency is more committed to helping you write more business and be more successful.