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Benefits Administration and Enrollment During a Pandemic

Benefits Administration and Enrollment During a Pandemic

By Drew Beaugard, Senior Regional Director, Forrest T. Jones & Company

FTJ

A global pandemic and the resulting measures to control it have created a benefits administration landscape that most never dreamed would become a reality. State, local and school district administrators were aware of the possibility of something like this occurring, but it was almost exclusively relegated to the domain of fantasy or science-fiction. So, what do we do now?

The inability to conduct true face-to-face meetings due to shelter-in-place measures has forced those responsible for benefits administration to rely on electronic communication channels that were always available but often underutilized.

Forrest T. Jones & Co. as the Third-Party Administrator of the Missouri Educators Unified Health Plan (MEUHP) has accepted the challenge and addressed the needs of Missouri school districts to coordinate and facilitate benefits open enrollment via a 100% electronic process with direct support from licensed agents via phone, email and internet conferencing service.

Three things are key to success in accomplishing efficient, complete and compliant benefit administration without onsite physical assistance:

1) Prepare with tested enrollment technology platforms in place prior to the onset of quarantine measures. Electronic enrollment platforms are complex systems that function seamlessly, but they require considerable investment in resources and manpower in the setup phase that is vital to success when it’s time to enroll. Make sure you know your platforms and that they are real-time tested prior to open enrollment.

2) Enlist a comprehensive electronic communications strategy - Conventional communication channels like email and telephone continue to serve as the foundation to any communication strategy. Thankfully in 2020, there are also a wide variety of video conferencing platforms available to facilitate virtual face-to-face meetings. When dealing with something as personal and emotional as employee benefits, having a trusted advisor accessible almost as if they were there in-person is oftentimes invaluable. The video conferencing platforms facilitate very effective large group meetings as well. There’s a visual element to interpersonal communication that cannot be captured via phone conversations or email. Utilize any and all available technology platforms and communicate early and often.

3) Set realistic timelines - When dealing with online – and off site - enrollment, make sure you give your staff enough time to digest the information before the open enrollment ends. While you may need to be flexible, a two to three week window should be plenty of time for all staff members and retirees to get any questions answered and enroll either on line or by phone. Also make sure the carriers have enough time to process your employee elections and have new ID cards mailed prior to the effective date. Of course, members can also access their ID cards either online or on through the carrier’s app.

If you were not prepared for this pandemic, we recommend you start planning now to adjust your approach for the future. Social Distancing may be the norm for quite some time. The bottom line is you can improve your efficiency and experience for your staff by using:
• a proven electronic enrollment system customized for your district
• a well-timed and complete communication strategy
• support from caring, experienced licensed agents and benefits administrators

For more ideas and suggestions on employee benefits administration during a pandemic, check out the presentation on the MOASBO website under the “AMPD UP SESSIONS”. Or contact Drew Beaugard at 314.540.3739 or dbeaugard@ftj.com.