Marsh Employee Benefits Pilots Online Enrollment

May 14, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Reports of the death of e-commerce seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

Or perhaps a better way to put it is that the production of goods and provision of services fundamentally are the same processes they always have been, but computers and the Internet are tools that can bring dazzling efficiencies to those processes.

One recent example of such online innovation in an otherwise traditional service is a point-click-enroll process that Marsh@WorkSolutions has devised: a Web-based employment benefits delivery system for mid-sized employers.

What it means is that the day may be ending when it’s necessary to leave the floor or one’s office to wait around in HR for pseudo-confidential help with, say, a beneficiary change.

Likewise, such a system may enable many employers to free human resources for more training and interviewing time and less paper chasing.

Marsh Employee Benefit Services here began testing the system a month ago between its Grand Rapids offices and the Marsh@WorkSolutions benefits program management division in Des Moines.

The idea was to provide online open enrollments for employees at three firms. The participants were X-Rite, of Grand Rapids, DENSO Manufacturing Michigan Inc., a Battle Creek manufacturer, and MC Sports, a six-state Midwest retailer.

X-Rite, which has a local work force of 440, manufactures instruments and software for precision color measurement. DENSO, an automotive component manufacturer, has 2,200 employees. MC Sports has 1,500 full-time and part-time employees in 70 sites.

The Marsh program offered employee benefits information in a self-serve, online format for the clients and their employees. Marsh created a customized Web site for each employer through which employees accessed benefit explanations, product information, enrollment instructions and links to carrier and benefit vendors.

Each employee’s contact on the Web was password-protected. Moreover, under the federal electronic signatures act of last year, employees were able to use the electronic signature option if they wished.

One X-Rite employee, Stan Zimmerman, said the process was easy. “The system was very intuitive — I just clicked right through the enrollment process.

“I really found it convenient” he added, “having all my benefits information in one central location.”

Marsh said the pilot was designed to simplify enrollment, minimize costs and maximize benefit choice.

It happened that the pilot was initiated at X-Rite just before the firm switched to a PPO form of health coverage. An HR consultant at X-Rite, Diana Jones, said she was impressed by how easy it was to implement the new coverage within the pilot program.

Jones also sees cost minimization in paper work. “Our vendor billing process used to be a largely manual process,” she said. But she said the online process “will allow us to simply print a vendor billing report that is automatically populated with key employee information and financial data.”

In a statement from X-Rite, Tony Sanders, vice president of human resources, said his firm’s participation in the pilot helped move X-Rite employees toward self-service.

“Our goal is to give employees self-service access to their benefits information and election options,” he said. “By allowing employees to update their address, beneficiary and other personal information directly into the system, we can improve the accuracy of our employee data and more efficiently focus the time of our human resources personnel.”

Sanders explained that the system enables both new employees and employees who undergo changes in their lives to make benefit choices and changes on their own, and that the system automatically plugs those changes into the HR data store.

He said self-service benefit selection will reduce the time HR staffers must spend on repetitive benefits administration and enrollment tasks.

One of Marsh’s local officers, Mike Young, a senior vice president, advised that online enrollment is much more cost-effective and efficient than the traditional paper chase with all its faxes and almost-daily mailings that meet physical processing delays at both ends of the pipeline.

“Updates to information are instantaneous,” he said, “and administrative costs for printing, processing, mailing and documenting paper transactions area greatly reduced.”

The reference to printing concerns, among other things, was to custom insurance plan documents that must, under ordinary circumstances, be printed for each employee and retiree.

The pilot program deals with core benefits — employer-paid medical, dental and vision coverage — and voluntary benefit plans, with 401(k) and flex spending plans, all tied to a data base housing related employee eligibility and benefit information.

The pilot also deals with a rather broad range of voluntary programs that may be purchased in part or wholly by employee: group legal coverage, auto, life, cancer and long term care insurance, plus home computer purchase plans and even pet insurance.

Young said the pilot project had the latitude to accommodate those employees who don’t have access to the Web or who aren’t comfortable with it. He said they were able to dial a toll-free Marsh call center.

Similar service was available at the Battle Creek firm where many workers were without Internet access. Many part-time and full-time MC employees, however, either had access to the Internet at home or through the stores.

Moreover, having them all registered in the same venue gave the firm something it had not possessed to this point: a single, comprehensive employee database. Rick Ritchie, the firm’s HR manager, said, “Entering information into one database will be a substantial time-saver for the benefits department. With only one administrator and six different benefit vendors, the time saved with single data entry, automated billing and the link to our payroll system will allow us to be proactive in wellness and continue to upgrade our benefit packages.”           

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