2020 is an interesting year in which to administer Open Enrollment for corporate benefit plans. Typically employees are at work, they generally know open enrollment is looming, and filling out forms or making online elections is the norm. Like life around us, Covid-19 has clearly disrupted this norm.
Open Enrollment periods generally occur toward the end of the Plan year-end, which often is during November/December for a January 1st effective date. However, there are also many plans with fiscal year-ends initiating mid-year rather than year-end Open Enrollment periods. Regardless of yearly timing, the most significant Open Enrollment consideration for employees is to understand any changes to the underlying benefit plan designs and/or whether employee payroll deductions are changing.
One overriding employer responsibility is to communicate effectively about benefit changes affecting employees. ERISA employers are treated like fiduciaries on non-qualified benefit plans, while public entities are not. However, common sense suggests public entities have no less responsibility to communicate effectively.
Here are a few challenges for employers during Open Enrollments in 2020:
- Delaying an Open Enrollment is illegal. Employees must be given an Open Enrollment opportunity at least every 12 months.
- Assure employees are informed and implement appropriate protocols to capture employee elections and respond to questions.
- DOL, IRS, and HHS enacted mandatory temporary legislation affecting various reporting and waiting periods. While some temporary deadlines are vague, others are likely to be extended depending on the severity of the epidemic crisis.
- DOL, IRS, and HHS enacted optional temporary legislation affecting various reporting, elections, and waiting periods.
- DOL, IRS, and HHS enacted mandatory legislation requiring coverage for certain Covid-19 testing and treatment benefits.
- Self-funded employers should work closely with third party administrators and Stop-Loss insurance carriers to assure compliance efforts. Similarly, insured plans should look to their carriers as well.
As a final word, successful employers are often partnered with competent professional advisors. We encourage employers to start there and ask yourself, “Is my broker/consultant helping to make my company more successful at this time of regulatory requirements?”