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February 05, 2003
Online Enrollment Remains First Choice
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ng online remains employees' first choice for benefits enrollment, according to a consultant's survey.

The percentage of employees enrolling via the Internet has almost doubled in three years, according to research conducted by Hewitt Associates, an HR outsourcing and consulting firm.

Hewitt reports finding that the percentage of employees choosing to enroll for their 2003 benefits via the Internet was 70 percent - exactly the same as the previous year. This is up from only 36 percent in 1999, and 51 percent in 2000.

As Internet enrollment has increased, enrollment via interactive voice response (IVR) systems and call centers has declined. This past fall, only 8 percent enrolled through IVR and 23 percent by call centers, compared to 30 percent for IVR and 34 percent for call centers in 1999.

"For most employees, the Web is the best enrollment vehicle as it offers robust tools and educational content to help employees make their benefit decisions," said Maureen Kincaid, Hewitt's health management practice leader. "As online enrollment becomes the preferred choice of employees, we're seeing that companies are eliminating paper altogether, as well as other enrollment alternatives that have low utilization rates."

As the number of employees using the Internet for their benefits increases, more companies are offering online enrollment services and tools. According to Hewitt, the number of companies offering Web enrollment has increased by 36 percentage points since 2000 and has nearly tripled since 1999.

During this past enrollment season, which typically takes place between late September and early December, Hewitt successfully enrolled more than 9 million employees and their dependents on behalf of nearly 115 companies through its enrollment services. Employees can complete their enrollment online in one visit, if they so choose, and access personal assistance through Hewitt's customer service call center when needed.

In an effort to help employees make the best benefit decisions and become better health care consumers, companies are offering more decision-support tools. Examples of these types of tools include health plan comparison charts, flexible spending account estimators, health plan cost calculators and health plan provider directories. These tools provide participants with transaction and inquiry support, personalized information, and educational content to assist them in making informed decisions about their benefits.

"As companies struggle with double-digit health care cost increases, some are implementing new consumer-driven health plans and realize that decision-support tools and educational content, combined, are critical in helping employees become better health care consumers, " said Kincaid. "The Internet will enable the evolution of online enrollment services and tools to meet the changing health care marketplace, as well as employers' and employees' needs."

High satisfaction

Employee satisfaction with enrolling via the Internet is on the rise as well. Hewitt's data found that 93 percent of employees enrolling for benefits online were satisfied with the overall enrollment process. Ninety-five percent were also satisfied with the ease of enrolling and the time it took to enroll, while eight out of 10 participants felt that they had access to all of the information necessary to enroll.

Other key enrollment statistics:

* More than one-quarter (26 percent) of retirees used the Internet during enrollment.

* Twenty-one percent of companies offering online enrollment had more than 90 percent of their participants enroll online.

* Of those companies offering Internet enrollment, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) do not send paper confirmation statements.

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