The COVID-19 pandemic has caused long-lasting changes to our priorities as a society and as individuals. From cancelled events, working from home and separation from friends and family, we’ve had to adapt to the situation as best we can. So, it’s no wonder that the uncertainty of the pandemic has caused enrollees’ priorities to shift.

Enrollment methods have changed

Due to COVID-19, most brokers experienced a change in their most frequently used enrollment method in 2020, according to a survey by BenefitsPRO. Only 2% of enrollees used paper enrollment forms, while 38% of enrollees signed up online, using self-service portals. For 76% of agencies, the way they do business has changed after 2020.

You should also expect that having online open enrollment may mean that your groups will be looking for any data you can share with them. Having hard data about what benefits are being selected, historic price information and other statistics about your current clients will help you gain more clients in the future.

Greater focus on the whole family

In the past year and a half, many adults became caregivers for their parents and took on education roles for their children while also working full-time. Employees are looking for benefits that extend to their family members and benefits that make the care of their family easier, like family and medical leave, assisted living coverage and child care coverage. Getting the whole family covered even extends to furry friends; the number of pets insured in North America has increased 23% since 2019.

Mental health services are more important than ever

The stress and difficulty of the pandemic have taken a toll on mental health. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who reported symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 36% to 42% between August 2020 and February 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before the pandemic, Americans only chose virtual options for mental health care 20% of the time. After the pandemic started, the American Psychiatric Association saw their own members’ usage of telehealth services jump to 85%.

Employers are responding by offering mental health benefits that include access to online resources and apps that address stress and difficulty sleeping. About 70% of employers planned to start, continue or expand investment in mental health resources in 2021, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company. Employers who invest in mental health coverage get results. Almost 86% of employees who are treated for depression symptoms show substantial improvement in work performance, according to one study.  

Employees expect to keep using telehealth options

While virtual visits won’t completely replace in-person visits any time soon, they’re definitely sticking around. Telehealth visits spiked during March 2020, but there were 10 times more telehealth visits in March 2021 than in March 2020, according to a market report.

Employees are using telehealth services and, in many cases, they expect to keep using it. In some cases, patients rated their interactions with their providers higher when they had virtual appointments than in-person. To appeal to a variety of employee preferences, Delta Dental offers two different kinds of virtual dentistry: video-based and photo-based.

Virtual events preferred over in-person

With many employees still working from home and continually changing safety recommendations, in-person enrollment events are still being pushed online. Luckily, virtual enrollment has advantages for you and your clients. Instead of fielding phone calls and emails all day, you can update your website in real time to address common questions. Enrollees can research and select benefits without having to keep track of physical papers or even leave the house.

What do successful virtual open enrollment events look like?  A study by Flimp Communications concluded that a high-performing open enrollment campaign includes:

  • Microsites. These websites are customized to fulfill your groups’ specific benefits needs with unique visuals, video and copy and can be used to address members’ frequently asked questions.
  • Video. Both short-form and long-form video have a place in your campaign. A short-form video may simply be a quick, supplemental explainer and a long-form video would be more detailed and available for employees on demand.
  • Links. Linking out to your enrollment portal, to helpful PDFs, contact pages or financial-wellness portals helps employees sign up for and best utilize their benefits.
  • Decision support. Tools that collect all key benefits information into one place and then make recommendations based on algorithms or questionnaires had higher-than-average engagement.
  • Analytics. With real-time analytics, you and your team can adjust to help employees answer questions online. When you know what drives traffic, what people want, and when people want it, you’ll be even better prepared for next time.

The pros and cons of virtual events

Technology has its limits, however. The Pew Research Center found that only 26% of internet users aged 65 years or older felt very confident when using electronics to get things done online. If all your materials are online, make sure they’re easy to find for everyone, regardless of skill with technology. That means clearly labeling links and having logical paths through your website, as well as making sure all materials can be easily downloaded and viewed without special software.

In that same vein, virtual open enrollment gives you the ability to be increasingly accessible to those with disabilities. Gaps in accessibility can leave individuals with visual, hearing and motor disabilities without the ability to make informed decisions about their health care. By using accessible websites, you make it easier for everyone in your clients’ groups to get health care. 

Open enrollment changes motivated by COVID-19 may be here to stay. Adapt your open enrollment offerings to serve your group clients’ needs during and beyond the pandemic. Being flexible and responsive helps ensure members understand their benefits for the year ahead and are able to get the coverage they need.