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Open enrollment: How employers can navigate challenges

Open enrollment periods for benefits programs and health insurance coverage have begun for insurance providers and US companies, where many employers are tasked with balancing employee needs with managing costs. Aflac (AFL) US Chief HR Officer Jeri Hawthorne joins Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani to discuss strategies for planning a successful enrollment process and understanding the material.

Hawthorne emphasizes open communication on employee offerings, stating employers need to "actively communicate what those offerings are on a regular basis."

Hawthorne predicts that with a diversity of new services — including mental healthcare providers and possibly weight loss medication — many employers will find ways to save money while attempting to meet needs, stating “there will be an increase in cost-sharing."

For more expert insight and the latest market action, click here to watch this full episode of Yahoo Finance Live. Additionally, Yahoo Finance will be providing more analysis on the healthcare industry in its week-long special Healthcare: Industry Checkup.

Video Transcript

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: OK, here at Yahoo I know there's about 13 links, 7 videos, and a really long website that explains what our benefits are. So it is not easy and very time-consuming for the average individual, but the companies do take the time to put these benefits together. And to the point on your surveys, we've seen increasing diversity in benefits and broader options, things like mental and digital health.

I wonder, in context of the weight loss frenzy that's happening right now, the drugs, key and center, do you see a shift in how employers are thinking about coverage for things like that and including those GLP-1s?

JERI HAWTHORNE: Yeah. I mean, I think employers are trying to meet employees where they are, right? One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that we're whole people I guess is what I would say, instead of just an employee of a company. And so what I've seen employers do is to try to identify offerings that employees are stating that they want.

It's interesting, in our report, we found that almost 80% of employers think that employees understand the benefits while actually fewer than half do. So I really think the big opportunity is that employers need to not only listen to their employees with what they want, but also to actively communicate what those offerings are on a regular basis.

You know, we're in open enrollment right now. This is a great time for employers to kind of put out the glossy brochures and all those fun videos, but the key is really to actively communicating with employees on an ongoing and consistent basis, following trends that are out there and making sure that their employees are aware of what's happening.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: At the same time, all of this costs the companies money. We're looking at with that broader diversity of offerings, how do you think that companies are thinking about where to make cuts and what to offer?

JERI HAWTHORNE: Yeah, that's a hard one, because, you know, I've seen expenses going up. Anywhere I've seen a few reports between 5% and 8% for companies going into 2024, and I think that, you know, I don't believe that companies will actually start cutting things, what I think is that there will be an increase in cost sharing between employers and employees.

And so if that means increasing premiums, if it means increasing co-pays, out-of-pocket deductibles, I think that's what employers will do in order to help to offset those expenses. Now, that also reinforces why employees need to become better educated consumers of their benefits.