This session was originally presented on May 25, 2021
With some employees back in the workplace and many still working from home, uniformly managing and rolling out your employee benefit programs can be a real challenge. In this session, we will offer ways to overcome these challenges along with some tips and tricks on how to make your company’s benefit administration and enrollment processes a breeze.
Join Jeff Plakans, President of Commonwealth Payroll & HR, and Jonathan Maia, Account Manager with EverythingBenefits, to learn more about common challenges faced by employers, successful strategies employed by our clients, and ways to make a normally paper-based and cumbersome process into one that requires little worry.
Jonathan Maia, Account Manager, EverythingBenefits
EverythingBenefits is the leading provider of next-generation, end-to-end benefit technology solutions and services that help businesses of all sizes and their employees experience benefits in more meaningful ways. In his role, Jonathan manages strategic business relationships with partners and provides full service offerings to ensure the availability of powerful and effective solution sets to his customers.
Jeff Plakans (00:07):
Welcome everybody to today’s webinar which we’re calling, Making Benefit Admin a Breeze with Commonwealth Payroll & HR & EverythingBenefits. We were talking a few months ago at the time when we plan these things back when we really weren’t sure whether COVID was in our rear view mirror or whether we were just going to get a little break before the next surge like we did in the fall of 2020. While it’s great to know that the pandemic is probably largely behind us when many of our client employers were sending their folks to go to work at home, it brought to light some real challenges for companies that weren’t ready, who didn’t have the processes to do that. And that in turn threw a spotlight on some needs that most employers didn’t know that they had specifically how important it was to communicate and perform employee benefit management consistently, electronically and to get that data directly to their carriers as efficiently as possible.
Jeff Plakans (01:09):
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jeff Plakans and I’m the founder and president of Commonwealth Payroll & HR. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years and all the time watching the process of managing and paying employees become more efficient, yet more challenging with each and every year. I’ve made it a career to try and stay at the front of this evolution. And with today’s presentation, I’m convinced we’ll be showing many of you something that you didn’t think was possible without being awfully expensive.
Jeff Plakans (01:40):
Today, I’m joined by Jonathan Maia, a Senior Account Manager with EverythingBenefits, Commonwealth primary partner in what we call carrier connectivity or what I call the only way to be handling benefit administration. Together, we’ll be defining what benefit administration really is, what it is not, and how we accomplish our solutions here at Commonwealth. We’ll indeed be recording this session and sending a copy to all of today’s webinar registrants. It should be noted that what we’re providing here is a very general look into our solutions here at Commonwealth, but your particular situation may look different. So take what we show here as a more general example. Remember that your solution may be more or less complicated. So if what you see here today interests you, be sure to be in touch with us for a more in-depth discussion.
Jeff Plakans (02:42):
Whoops, sorry about that. I think it’s important to start with defining what we mean when we use the term benefit administration. Like the term human resources, it’s a big word that only means many things, but it means many different things to many different people. For purposes of today’s review when we use the word benefit administration, we’re referring to the various tasks included in selecting benefits for your employees, which you normally do with a broker or advisor. Once you’ve selected benefit plans for your employees, you need to determine who is and who is not eligible. Then you need to educate and communicate your employees about those benefits, why those are useful and what they impact. Finally, you need to communicate the costs that your company will bear and what the employee will need to contribute. From this the employee can determine if they want to enroll or way of the benefits, and if they enroll what impact that’s going to have on their paycheck. This is all part of benefit admin, but there’s more. You need to track all of this, gather signatures, employee data, and pass all that onto benefit carriers.
Jeff Plakans (03:55):
Then you’re going to need to give the employees the ability to update their plans were allowable and make sure that all of that gets to the carriers. That’s why when you ask somebody to define human resources, there’s usually a good chance that they’re going to mention the word benefits in the first few sentences of their explanation. This is usually the responsibility of someone in the HR role of a company, which may stand alone, might be a finance function, or maybe even just be that one person in your office who knows how and actually gets things done. If that sounds like you, stay tuned. We’re going to show you some things that hopefully will captivate you. But first, John’s going to talk a little bit about benefit administration and the last year and a half under COVID-19. John.
Jonathan Maia (04:45):
Jeff, when COVID hit back in March of 2020, it goes without saying that most employers were caught off guard. Many had to quickly come up with ways of allowing their employees to work remotely, but it was more than figuring out ways to work. It was figuring out ways to communicate. From it, we got the wide and quick adoption of tools like Zoom, Slack and Teams. As the pandemic dragged on and we all unfortunately realized we were in this for the long haul, we started to think about processes that were always done in person, such as annual employee benefit enrollment. We also started to realize how difficult it was to onboard new employees using these new tools and old standards such as email, PDF fill-ins and a lot of extraneous communication making these processes even more cumbersome and inefficient. Like most things employers started to look for new tools that would make them more efficient. And in this case, smaller employers were able to take a cue from larger employers who had the same needs, but had already implemented them, not because of the pandemic, but because of the scale of the employer.
Jeff Plakans (05:57):
Thanks, John. Pre COVID the BenAdmin process at many companies took a few forms. The size of the company correlated very closely with how benefit administration was handled. Larger employers of 250 employees up to, I don’t know, 25,000 employees or more usually handled benefit administration electronically, which meant they had some kind of electronic system that would help their benefits departments, notice I didn’t say HR departments there, manage communication and enrollment at a very large scale. For them it was a matter of scale. And often the employees were spread out over distance and doing so as personal enrollments just wasn’t possible. Smaller companies generally tended towards more traditional or more manual methods of benefit administration. What did this look like? First, new employees were handed a paper or PDF version of a benefit enrollment guide, which outlined the benefit and benefit costs. This guide was reproduced every year for open enrollment and distributed to employees with each new plan year so they could make their benefit choices for the coming year.
Jeff Plakans (07:10):
There was often an in-person enrollment meeting usually run by the benefit broker to educate the employees and to be available to answer questions about the benefits. Sometimes there was more than one meeting, but while these tended to be more personalized, they were often inconsistent in the delivery of information to reliant on the attendees versus the non attendees and left out a very important component in many of these benefit decisions, the employee’s spouse or partner. Once the employees decided to enroll, they were required to complete paper or PDF enrollment forms, and those were returned to the HR team or to the broker. Either the HR team or the broker would then submit the data into the broker’s enrollment website, a process that could be rife with errors, not to mention kills quite a few trees in the process. With employees working from home during the pandemic, these methods became unmanageable for smaller companies. It became incumbent upon employers to look for a solution that more closely resembled what the larger employers were doing. Namely, electronic BenAdmin leveraging carrier connectivity.
Jonathan Maia (08:27):
Manual enrollments have always been the quick, easy and default way to go. And for most small businesses, it’s really all they’ve ever known. But there is a lot of downside. First off, if you don’t use an enrollment platform, you don’t benefit from the consistency and the convenience that comes with it. It’s manual mostly for everyone involved. Also, communicating benefits enrollment info to carriers manually not only error prone, but time consuming and disruptive to everyone, even when it’s done by a broker. Many brokers, aren’t great at it, but will do it as an accommodation to the clients, given how competitive the benefits business is, I totally agree. Also, most carriers only allow groups with 100 or more to enroll using automated EDI technology. This prevents groups with low enrollment in specific plans from using these technologies.
Jonathan Maia (09:26):
This traditionally has effectively barred some of those smaller groups from leveraging connecting their benefits directly with the carrier. Another downside is any issue resolution is time-consuming and difficult due to the manual filing limitations. Some carriers have multiple systems in their tech stack over-complicating the process to resolve things like keystroke entry challenges, missed dates, et cetera. And finally, to make sure it’s correct in payroll, you need to reenter the employee data again. So between the enrollment communication, to the carrier and getting it into the payroll, you’ve recorded the data now three different times. But fortunately there is a better way and Jeff’s going to talk about that now.
Jeff Plakans (10:16):
Thanks John. Through COVID we realized that employees are remote and will likely continue to be remote to some degree for probably some time now. So we need a way to communicate and collect our employees benefit information electronically, whether it’s during their onboarding as a new employee or during their annual enrollment period, no matter the size of the company. And we determined earlier than in order to do that, you need to have a benefit admin and enrollment platform. Good news is that if you’re already a client of Commonwealth, you already have access to one. And if you’re not a client of Commonwealth, you should become one. All of our clients here at Commonwealth are on the isolved People Cloud platform and are using it in different ways, such as for payroll processing, HR and timekeeping. By turning on our BenAdmin services, it integrates right into and with the employee data that’s already there.
Jeff Plakans (11:20):
isolved People Cloud covers quite a bit of real estate in that payroll, benefits and HR all live under the same application roof. And employee enrolling and benefits will only be allowed to enroll in the benefits they’re eligible for based on the rules that we establish when we set up your benefits. And the benefit costs for employer and employee are tracked by coverage code or by cost band and by benefit year so keeping things up to date is a breeze and cost of course, tie into payroll and are auto calculated based on the employee’s pay frequency and annual plan your contribution choices. Upon enrollment and employee is prompted to update all dependent and beneficiary information. And once that’s completed, they review each benefit with its decision-making tools, which could be a link to a provider video, a physician’s directory, a disclaimer form. And finally, when enrollment is complete, the employee electronically signs off on his or her choices, which is then saved to their employee documents center isolved.
Jeff Plakans (12:27):
So in People Cloud you’ll have all the capability to capture your employee’s remote benefit enrollments from wherever they are, whether their device of choice is a computer, iPad or smartphone and isolved becomes this system for record. Where things get super powerful is once you combine the use of Commonwealth’s BenAdmin and enrollment platform with our partner for carrier connectivity, EverythingBenefits. We do this in order to communicate the benefit enrollment data you collect directly to the carriers removing the need for additional data entry. In essence, we capture the data once electronically and then transmit it throughout. Remember, we already discussed the pitfalls associated with a paper enrollment or the manual communication of enrollment data to your benefit carriers. So we use isolved People Cloud to manage benefit eligibility and employee enrollment which was already reviewed. We presented the employee with their benefits communications, their pricing and their choices for them to review on demand with their spouse or partners in order to make the best possible decisions for their families.
Jeff Plakans (13:41):
And once those decisions were made, we had it all approved by our HR team and connected it directly to payroll in real time. And now we can connect to the carriers and transmit that enrollment information directly also in real time. Traditionally, larger groups communicate data to carriers using what is called an EDI feed. If your group has over 100 employees, this would still be the case. Smaller groups often feel they have no other options. But with Commonwealth’s relationship and arrangement with EverythingBenefits, this is not true. For smaller groups we use smart forms to communicate the enrollment information digitally, but in a different format than an EDI feed.
Jeff Plakans (14:29):
It gets the info to the carrier in the way that they’ll except for the smaller group, but it’s still streamlined like an EDI feed. But the key takeaway here is that where using benefit enrollment systems and carrier connectivity was once reserved for larger companies, it can now be done with any size company who has a desire. And in today’s remote workforce environment, that need is greater than it’s ever been before. So now, John’s going to bring you up to speed on EverythingBenefits and carrier connectivity.
Jonathan Maia (15:03):
And finally, I get to introduce myself. So who is EverythingBenefits? We are Commonwealth’s partner for all carrier connectivity. We’re a full BenAdmin technology platform providing a suite of products to help employers manage and communicate benefits information across a variety of different plans, such as medical, voluntary, ancillary, and even financial plans. We’re focused today on the carrier connectivity side, but can also help with financial connectivity think connecting to your 401k plan administrator, and also with benefits reconciliation. So let me explain what carrier connectivity is. When we connect to the carrier, that connection acts as a bridge of information between Commonwealth’s BenAdmin and enrollment platform, isolved People Cloud and insurance carriers. That allows us to communicate benefits data quickly, accurately, and without those manual or redundant processes. When we talk about using smart forms, we’re talking about a quick setup time and automated delivery directly to the carrier but for companies who wouldn’t otherwise qualify to use an EDI feed.
Jonathan Maia (16:25):
We actually recently had a client that prior to working with Commonwealth and EverythingBenefits was outsourcing their benefits enrollment to a third party HR consulting company, and found that unfortunately the old ways are a painful process. Some of the challenges that they shared with us include that due to the fact that the client only had about 45 employees, no carrier would allow them to have an EDI feed. So for years, unfortunately they did it manually. Another challenge was manually entering data to the carrier. Anytime there were enrollments, or changes, or terminations, they had to go to the carrier site directly in order to inform them of these types of events. And they were also reliant on vendor’s availability. They had only one point of contact with third third-party consulting company, which makes them heavily reliant on that vendor’s availability and contributed to further delays. Luckily, once carrier connectivity was integrated using those smart forms all of the clients issues with benefits enrollment being communicated to carriers were resolved. They were able to get processed automation, improved issue, resolution timing, and luckily they gained control of their benefits enrollment process along the way.
Jeff Plakans (17:50):
So why is this important to you? I’m betting that if you’re watching this webinar, you may fit one of the following descriptions. You’re a benefit broker looking for better solutions for your clients enrollment and interaction with the carriers. You’re a company who’s just suffered some devastating and potentially costly mistakes around benefit enrollment and carrier communication. You work for a company who does everything manually and it’s all on your shoulders and your shoulders are tired. Or the person you had in charge of this process is no longer working for you and now it’s your problem. When you combine our BenAdmin through the isolved People Cloud with carrier connectivity, you’re going to get a platform that’s employee ready, and a process that eliminates all manual interaction with the data. We can support any size company and any benefit your company might offer. And once set up changes are constantly monitored and communicated when an employee updates, say, the annual contribution amount to their FSA plan. Best of all, it can be done in weeks, rather than in months with many other connectivity solutions and can be managed in HR budgets of all sizes.
Jeff Plakans (19:10):
So, now what? Well, of course, it’s going to be question time, but before we get started on questions again, I wanted to remind everybody that all registrants to today’s webinar are going to be getting a copy of today’s session. If you want to know more information or you want to reach out to us, my contact info is here on the screen, or you could use your mobile phone to hit that QR code with your camera. That’ll take you right to a page on our website that has a lot more information for everything. So John, let’s take a look at some of our questions and see what we’ve got. Give me just a moment here. So John, somebody asked, “Can we still use smart forms if their company’s larger than 100 employees?”
Jonathan Maia (20:15):
Absolutely. So it’s not only helpful for those smaller groups that aren’t eligible for an EDI, but it’s also helpful as an interim solution. So we can get those smart forms up and running within two to three weeks. And then in the background, we can start working on that EDI so that once that EDI is ready to go into production, we can simply turn off those forms and turn on that EDI connection.
Jeff Plakans (20:43):
All right. Okay. Thank you. Sort of a related question. So John, what’s the smallest size company you’ve ever set up on carrier connectivity?
Jonathan Maia (20:57):
Absolutely. So we’ve obviously seen some very small clients find benefit in it, as small as I would say, five individuals, although we really see the sweet spot being those organizations larger than 25 employees on benefits.
Jeff Plakans (21:16):
Yeah. We’ve seen that as well in that employers really start to have challenges with enrollment when they get to about 20, 25 employees. And it starts to get really a little bit more than one person can handle every so often.
Jonathan Maia (21:31):
Jeff Plakans (21:32):
So how long has this take to get set up, John?
Jonathan Maia (21:36):
So once you’re up and running within to the Commonwealth systems or isolved, it takes only about two to three weeks for us to map the necessary forms and configure everything so that we can send those forms over to a carrier whenever one of those different events such as enrollment, termination, or any different changes might occur.
Jeff Plakans (22:01):
Okay. [inaudible 00:22:06] same question. I’ll take this one. How much does this cost? There’s a couple of different variables that fall into the cost related to do this. First and foremost is obviously how many different benefits you have and what type of benefits you have. In other words, who were the carriers, are there multiple carriers or just one carrier with multiple benefits. And then obviously the size of your company and what’s sort of associated with that. And of course the other question is whether or not with Commonwealth, we already have you set up using our BenAdmin solutions or not. So the answer is, it depends, but give us a call or reach out to us and we can talk to you specifically about your own situation.
Jeff Plakans (22:54):
I think we have time for just a couple more here. How do I make sure only the right employees are signing up for benefits? So I can take that one again as well. We utilize eligibility rules that we set up in isolved and we apply those eligibility rules to each of the individual benefits. So somebody that’s going to go through enrollment is not going to be presented with a benefit that they don’t meet the eligibility rules for, and that can be as restrictive or non-restrictive as your rules allow. And sometimes we utilize eligibility rules as well to control situations. For example, multi-state employers who will have some plans for employees in state A and other employer employees in state B. So that’s kind of how we control that using the BenAdmin platform.
Jeff Plakans (23:53):
Okay. I think that’s about it. So again, thanks everybody for attending today. Hopefully we’ve been informative, hopefully we’ve given you some things to think about. Again, back to our slide here. My contact information is listed right there and reach out if you have any questions or go ahead and take a shot of the QR code. And that’ll take you to the page on our website that has a bit more information. John, thank you for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure.
Jonathan Maia (24:41):
Thank you everyone else for joining in today.
Jeff Plakans (24:44):
And everybody, have a great rest of your day. Thank you so much.
Jeff Plakans (24:51):