2020 Open Enrollment Playbook

Leadership team plays for winning in the upcoming open enrollment season.

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Let’s face it. COVID-19 has derailed many tried and true processes and open enrollment will not be an exception. Employers must now roll out their benefit plans to employees with varying resources. The face-to-face model of open enrollment just won’t make the cut this year — or possibly ever again.

"This transition is overdue and will now be forced for employers who haven't implemented technology just yet. That will be tough and we realize there are reasons why some employers haven't yet implemented technology platforms. We are going to have to dive into the deep end together on this, and I promise we will all survive."

Andrea Brummett, CEO & Founder, The Pabulum Group

So what’s an employer to do? We’ve gathered the top plays for leadership teams to win in the upcoming open enrollment season.

HR Capacity

HR Departments are overwhelmed managing COVID claims, shifting between remote and on-site workforces, navigating furloughs & layoffs and creating safe work environments. This creates anxiety for employers and employees alike; now add open enrollment season onto that.

Our Advice

  • Acknowledge the struggle. This is going to be tough, but we will make it through, and we will all be better for it as humans and organizations.
  • Use technology. It is no longer optional. Doing so will improve your communications and alleviate stress on your HR staff--both by eliminating manual work and reducing employee questions to personnel. Additionally, introverted and more private employees who are hesitant to raise questions in person would have access to answers. Video, decision support tools, surveys, online enrollment, HRIS systems...there's an exciting world of options out there.

"If we can't afford to hire more employees, perhaps we can "employ" some HR technologies to help our current HR personnel...We can still offer personal touch by being there to assist, but the technology can become a part time employee. It allows us more capacity to do things in the HR space that sometimes get lost because there is not enough time in the day."

- LaVeda Howell, SVP & Chief People Officer

YMCA of Greater Indianapolis


Communicating with employees in this distributed & socially distant world is at the top of almost every employer's mind as it relates to benefits and open enrollment specifically. Getting information out and successfully educating our staff without losing personal touch is a challenge, but a solvable one.

Our Advice

  • Start thinking about communicating NOW. The year is only going to get busier. Since you have to change anyway, get creative with your approach. Make sure your message is consistent, but use multiple delivery methods to meet all your employees' needs. Consider texts, email blasts, webinars, videos and even phone calls.
  • Survey your employees to ask how they would like their OE information and what benefits are important to them. As you follow the call to be more technological, recognize that some employees might not have Internet, computers or mobile devices. Whatever method you use, make sure the message is easy to understand. Write at a third to fifth-grade level. Eliminate jargon and define acronyms.

"What the COVID environment is doing is forcing employers to think through communications strategy with intention. We can't do the same thing we did last year assuming 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' COVID broke everything when it comes to communications."

Jen Hauck, Content & Communications Consultant

Gregory & Appel Insurance

Benefit Plan Costs

This is the first time most of us have experienced a pandemic. While premium increases and plan design changes are not new conversations, there is increased anxiety over how COVID will affect the costs of benefit plans as we budget for 2021.

Our Advice

  • Stay in touch with your benefits advisor.  When hospitals had to shut down elective and outpatient procedures, related plan claims went down. As the state began reopening, those procedures started to increase and are anticipated to spike before the end of the year. Eventually those will level back off to a "normal" rate.  Carriers are hinting that there will be a slight increase to premiums because of COVID. What has yet to be determined is if we will see an increase to general costs of care because of COVID risks or because of the loss of income stream they saw during the stay-at-home mandate.
  • Work from home has led to more sedentary lifestyles, poor self care and mental health challenges. Additionally, many people are putting off preventive and regulatory care due to fear of germ exposure. All of these things could result in a future spike in claims.

"We don't have any answers as to what is going to happen to benefit plan costs in the long term, but in the short term, we are not anticipating dramatic changes to renewals and premiums specific to COVID."

Lacey Robinson, SVP & Managing Director, Employee Benefits

Gregory & Appel Insurance

Navigating Bad News

Delivering the news of benefit plan cost increases is hard enough when there is not a global pandemic. Companies and individuals alike are in extremely difficult financial situations due to the current environment. What are some strategies to communicate bad news?


  • Don't try to hide the bad news.  Get ahead of it now and address it clearly. Then insert other positives into the messaging.  Set employee expectations prior to open enrollment season. What messaging can you plan now for 2022's open enrollment? Tell employees to expect a certain percentage increase every year and then try to stick to that. If you come in under, everybody wins.
  • Consider offering up more choice (base plans vs. buy-up plans) to your employees – this empowers your employees to make their OWN financial decisions tied to benefits and their own individual values and needs. Just remember that with choice comes the increased need for education.

"I think there's an opportunity to put more of the health care process into our employees' hands. There's some education that goes along with that, but in a time such as this, looking at providing options could be very beneficial to everyone."

- La Veda Howell, SVP & Chief People Officer

YMCA of Greater Indianapolis

Employee Mental Health

Outside of business logistics, employees have a growing need to feel heard and cared for by their employer – and this includes mental health. The remote and/or socially distant world adds a geographical challenge to this need that was a problem long before COVID hit the population.


  • Promote your EAP so that employees remember that you have one!  Statistically, it is one of the most underused benefits across the board.  Provide HIPAA-safe testimonials and examples of success stories if and when you can.
  • Take a personal approach to your communications about mental health without being physically present.  Never underestimate the power of a simple video.  While the experience of creating the video may not feel personal, getting your face in front of your staff in a format where they can revisit your content can be hugely effective.  And it does not have to be expensive: cell phone cameras, recorded Zoom calls or Go To Webinars – you can create a quick message without a huge price tag.

"We have gone through an extended period where people have been working from home, away from the hustle and bustle of normal work life. Accordingly, we have seen and heard anecdotally about increases in mental health challenges."

- Lacey Robinson, SVP & Managing Director, Employee Benefits

Gregory & Appel Insurance

Voluntary Benefits

As many employers are facing reduced hours, layoffs or furloughs, navigating the continuation of benefits for employees has been stressful.


  • Most Voluntary Benefits, like life insurance, are portable.
  • Some of the voluntary benefit providers are looking at expanding coverages. Some will include COVID testing in their wellness payback benefit, and some are also looking at covering COVID as a Critical Illness. Hospital Indemnity is rising in popularity. Consider adding this voluntary benefit to connect employees with cash to pay for their out-of-pocket, hospital-related expenses.

"It has been a welcome discovery that many voluntary benefits are portable: employees who lose benefit eligibility through their employer can keep them and pay for them from home."

- Janet McClure, VP & Manager, Worksite Benefits

Gregory & Appel

Cyber Risk

As the working world moves more onto the Internet and communications become more virtual, cyber crime rates are increasing. Statistics show that employees are being presented with an average of 8.5 internet links to click per day. The "bad actors" in the cyber world are finding new ways to trick people daily.


  • Train, train, train. Employees need to learn to spot trends of how cyber criminals trick them into revealing information as well as IT methods in place that help prevent the tricks in the first place. Help your workforce increase their vigilance in your efforts to stop cyber crime before it starts.

"Educate your staff with phishing webinars, handouts, emails... Talk about it on a consistent basis just as you would talk about issues like safety in industries like construction."

- Charlie Vaught, Risk Consultant

Gregory & Appel Insurance

Now that you know what it takes to win in the upcoming open enrollment season, there's no time like the present to start preparing!

Need help getting started?  Contact us for an open enrollment consultation.