what can be learned from towers watson’s annual enrollment 2010 survey

February 16, 2010

in annual enrollment,health communication,wellness

towers watson just released the results of a survey on companies’ efforts to improve employees’ open enrollment experience. while it’s a flash survey, and therefore summary in its findings, there are several bits of information i find compelling:

1. companies are expanding the channels they use to communicate with employees.

for 2010, 27% of participants plan to use podcasts and video to prepare employees to enroll and only a small minority plan to use sharepoint (6%) and other collaborative vehicles, like blogs or wikis (2%).

my two cents: i think we’ll see rapid growth in the use of blogs, in particular, as companies hear more success stories like intel’s and get more comfortable with social media, in general. a blog’s bent toward frequent, informal conversation where the reader/commenter has a distinct and important role, along with its ease of use and no-to-low-cost implementation, makes it an ideal channel for discussing new plans and plan changes.

2. while online has replaced paper, nothing has replaced face-to-face.

printed materials have taken a nosedive as a means for communicating about open enrollment, with 22% planning to eliminate print materials in 2010. the survey doesn’t cover the reasons for this change, but i’m sure it can be chalked up to cost savings and shifting available budget toward channels that provide a more personalized, interactive experience. i’d suspect this is also why face-to-face meetings have held their own and ever so slightly increased. employees still highly value the opportunity to ask questions and seek guidance from a flesh-and-blood presenter.

my two cents: personally, i’d like to see more companies continue earmarking budget for home mailings and open these meetings (and their wellness programs) to family members. families are critical players in enrollment decisions, in making and sustaining lifestyle changes, and in using health care services.

3. companies are starting to integrate wellness and open enrollment.

more companies are providing health fairs as part of their open enrollment experience (43%) and integrating their online enrollment with their wellness providers’ (13%). this is good news, as open enrollment is the perfect time to nudge employees about their health and lifestyle choices.

my two cents: the real trick is to integrate information, program design, and general culture for year-round emphasis.

5. nearly half of the companies provide decision-support tools, and those that do saw increased use.

this is very good news. it suggests that companies are providing the tools employees need to become the health care consumers companies desire them to be and that employees are growing more comfortable in this role.

my two cents: amazingly, nearly a full-quarter of participants said their open enrollment site is not integrated with any of their providers’. given that 39% said that employee understanding of new plan features was their greatest communication challenge, you need only consider this separation to glean why this might be the case.

employees’ use of these tools has been relatively low, so i hope towers watson digs into the employee perspective in their next survey. right now, we have only the company’s sense that employees altered their choices based on their use of these tools—74% believe they did.

you can review the full (albeit brief) report here.


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anon (due to a too unique name) February 17, 2010 at 2:39 am

“amazingly, nearly a full-quarter of participants said their open enrollment site is not integrated with any of their providers’.”

I think that a lot more people need to recognize how big of an issue this is. Even the Towers Watson tools don’t currently support vendor integration. The answer they’ve given me is “we’re looking into it.” Furthermore, I spoke with several national healthcare vendors about better integrating their data via single sign on protocols, and only 4 out of 12 were willing to discuss it and of those 4 only 2 offered any support for a unified login process.

Thank you so much for pointing this out!


fran February 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

single sign-on…wow, is that a gift to the employee. without it, many can’t be bothered. me, i’m surprised that more companies aren’t creating benefits and open enrollment portals for their employees, bringing together these separate sites to help employees choose and use their benefits.



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