5 things to consider when developing a benefits roadmap for 2024 and beyond
You read that right – 2024 benefits planning. You might be thinking: "Open Enrollment has concluded, file feeds are established with the carriers, and payroll files are processing successfully, it’s time to take a breather!”
While it might be tempting to delay planning for 2024 until Spring or Summer, this often-slower period is optimal for taking inventory of your programs and laying the framework for a successful year. It is never too early to start planning for the next renewal and Open Enrollment cycle, or even better, use this time to create a broad benefits strategy and develop a multi-year strategic roadmap.
With that in mind, here are 5 things to consider when developing a successful benefits roadmap for 2024 and beyond.
Checkpoint #1: Mind your budget
Managing cost is often the most important element in finalizing renewal decisions and can be a late-stage roadblock when expectations are not met. If your 2024 budget is not yet clear, we recommend collaborating with Finance early to understand what type of headwind or cost pressure you might experience.
Understanding budget restraints and employee pressures will help you anticipate whether you make significant plan or vendor changes or consider progressive cost containment strategies. A thorough vetting and vendor review often takes months, so when you start this process early, you will have more time to explore solutions that are the right fit for your organization, and more importantly, negotiate pricing and contact issues on your terms.
With your team, brainstorm actions you would take in different budget outlooks. Even if money isn't expected to drive the decision this year, you should always be asking:
- What would you do if you had more money to spend?
- What would you do if you had to cut costs?
Your broker/consultant can assist with preparing any financial analysis required for decision-making.
Checkpoint #2: Evaluate your vendors
At this stage, it’s important to get a baseline of the current state of your benefits program. One aspect that can help determine your direction is to evaluate your vendors. A critical responsibility of the HR team is to assess vendor relationships to ensure they are a suitable fit and meeting service expectations. Some questions to ask are:
- Are they the right partners to take you toward your future goals?
- Do you notice any gaps in coverage or service based on employee feedback or do you have benchmarking needs?
- Is there an unnecessary administrative burden in managing a particular vendor?
- Are you receiving a lot of negative feedback about a certain vendor or process? What can you do about it, assess the vendor or simply improve communications?
- Do you want to review emerging players?
- Are carrier contracts or rate guarantees expiring?
With the number of emerging vendor solutions in the benefits and insurance space, it can be overwhelming to find an option that suits the needs of your employee population. Your broker/consultant can assist with benchmarking, research, and vendor selection.
Checkpoint #3: Look for changes on the horizon
Benefit plan management is all about looking for what’s next, forecasting for the future, while monitoring any potential roadblocks that could derail you. If a carrier addition or change may be on the horizon, it’s best to have a plan to communicate and educate your workforce with plenty of advance notice. The ability to convey key messages to the appropriate population in a timely manner may require input from additional teams such as Marketing or Communications, HRIS/IT, or action from your vendors.
Be aware of friction within impacted groups who may view the change negatively. Allowing additional time to hear and address any concerns will go a long way in managing the overall sentiment towards their benefits and the HR team during Open Enrollment.
Many carriers have dedicated teams to generate employee-facing collateral designed specifically for education or change management and leveraging these materials can save you time and energy throughout the year. Your broker/consultant can assist in reviewing materials, compiling resources, and/or creating a custom communication plan that addresses your needs.
Checkpoint #4: Plan for workforce transformations
Another common curveball that HR teams often have to field is an acquisition, divestiture, reduction in force, or expansion into a new location. These organizational changes have the potential to generate a significant amount of extra work for your team. Depending on the magnitude, you may need policy amendments, notification to carrier underwriting, additional statutory coverages, updates to existing file feeds, assessment of provider network adequacy, and/or changes to medical reserve estimates (for self-funded employers), to name a few.
You may also consider harmonization of your plans, policies, or data structure. Carriers may need additional time to price the new plan designs and develop associated policy amendments. Requesting this information at an “off-peak” time can help you achieve faster turnaround times and allow extra time for your broker/consultant to advocate on your behalf for a favorable outcome.
Having a playbook that details important actions associated with a mid-year change is an invaluable resource. Your broker/consultant can help you plan for and develop a checklist for these situations.
Checkpoint #5: Understand your Team and your Audience
Has there been a change in leadership in the C-Suite, Finance, or HR? What resources do you have to carry out your planned goals? Are you maybe the newest member of the team?
The answers to these kinds of questions can drastically change your approach to executing your strategy. You may need to be proactive about briefing stakeholders on status and considerations before asking for support. This may include education sessions and rapport building before executing any major changes or taking on additional costs. Whatever process you adopt, starting early will make life easier for you and other stakeholders. Your broker/consultant can help you think about the type of framing or education needed in advance of critical conversations and help acknowledge resource constraints when planning work streams or projects for the upcoming year.
Nua Group offers a complimentary review of your benefit programs. Connect with us if you’d like to have a discussion.