By Meagan Tyson

Open enrollment is right around the corner, and with it, the need to educate employees on new and possibly confusing plan changes like high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.

Here’s what employers and their HR managers need to know about education campaigns to ensure employees are guided to informed decisions: In many respects, they can be simpler, of shorter duration and quite possibly require a lower budget commitment than ever before. And better yet? Doing it right can help drive even greater success these days in enrolling a greater number of workers to their high deductible health plans.

It wasn’t all that long ago that pre-open enrollment HDHP and HSA campaigns were launched a good six months in advance of the date the period actually opened. But there’s a lot of competition for employees’ attention – and many exciting benefits besides open enrollment are competing for everyone’s attention.

So, while the strategy and planning might start six months beforehand, the timeline for your outreach efforts should begin no more than four to six weeks before open enrollment’s start. That’s a good window for educating your employees without losing relevance and interest.

Here are three things to consider as you fine-tune your strategy.

1) Keep in mind the importance of live, face-to-face informational sessions as a component of your outreach. This is a particularly effective way to dispel uncertainties among employees who haven’t had previous exposure to HDHPs (or benefits in general, for that matter), or who haven’t enrolled in the past due to thinking the plans are too complicated.

2) Beyond tactics, it’s important to monitor how your communications perform, particularly against the backdrop of your changing employee demographics and how that, in turn, changes how they want to hear from you. That’s how you get the insights that will shape your open enrollment communication initiatives next year.

The impact of smartly designed and timed communications efforts can be substantial. One team following this sort of path moved from just describing how its plan worked during open enrollment only to designing a sustained effort that touted the plan’s advantages, offered enrollment guidance and how to get the most out of it – all in clearer and more simplified language. The upshot was a 30 percent increase in its HDHP enrollment. Another client, which issued weekly newsletters on relevant topics in the four or five weeks before open enrollment, saw a 22 percent increase in migration to its plan.

3) Remember that your efforts don’t begin and end with open enrollment itself. It’s hard for many people to truly understand new benefits like HSAs until they actually start using them. Follow-up support and informational initiatives should commence two months after open enrollment to help employees understand their benefits, what’s covered, who to call for plan assistance and other issues.

Every employer has different ideas and budgets about what is put into open enrollment communication campaigns – as well as the desired returns. These days, between the shortened campaign timeframe and variety of support tools offered by carriers and your HUB benefits advisor, your initiatives can be as cost-effective or expensive as your goals demand. As long as you don’t skimp on your strategy, you’ll be pleased with the outcomes.

Your HUB International specialists are ready to help you with every phase of your open enrollment communications planning and execution.