The Importance of Decision Support when Selecting Benefits

Open Enrollment time, again. Enormous decisions for employees, again. You have worked hard to create a valuable benefits package with meaningful choice. I am sure you wish there was something more you could do to help your employees so they were not so alone during Open Enrollment. If only there was a way in which you could ensure your employees received the help we all need when selecting the benefits best suited for ourselves and our families while fully appreciating the value of the benefits you provide. Well, there is and it’s called Decision Support and it can easily be integrated into a properly designed benefits administration platform.

What exactly is Decision Support? It sounds complicated and expensive, you may be saying to yourself. Decision Support is a multi-faceted approach to supporting employees when they are making some of the most important decisions they will make for themselves and their families. In a nutshell, Decision Support is a system for supporting the complex open enrollment process employees must annually navigate when making benefit elections.

When we think of Decision Support from Mercer’s perspective, we think of it in three escalating levels: (1) employee educational materials; (2) employee initiated actions; and (3) benefits administration platform initiated actions.

Employee educational materials are, as the terms implies, educational materials integrated into your benefits administration platform that will educate employees about the complex insurance and benefits landscape either via on-line material for the employee to read, or videos for the employee to watch. A perfect example is a video or on-line article explaining the intricacies of HSAs. Without educational materials, employees are left to learn on their own outside of the enrollment environment, a process few, if any, employees undertake.

Employee initiated actions refers to a host of actions the employee may take that will require some affirmative act while in the benefits administration platform to support their decision process. For example, on-line expense, disability needs and life insurance requirements calculators are all tools employees affirmatively utilize to support their benefit elections. To receive the maximum benefit from these tools, the employee must possess some basic personal family data and be ready to insert that data into the calculators while in the benefits administration platform. The calculators, in turn, provide employees with an understanding of their basic needs vis-à-vis a particular benefit election, such as life insurance.

Benefits administration platform initiated actions are the most complex of the decision support tools and typically requires employees to answer a set of questions during Open Enrollment—5 to 10—seeking a high-level understanding of the employee’s benefit needs. An example of such a question is “In the event of your death or disability, which expenses will your family be responsible for?” After asking the employee the set of questions, the benefits administration platform’s algorithms will work to make a recommendation the employee should elect from the universe of benefits offered by the employer. The recommendation is not binding; rather, it provides important decision support guidance that ultimately get them to the best choice for their individual situation, which improves outcomes for the employee and the employer.

Decision Support tools are not only critical but necessary to enhancing your employees’ open enrollment experience. You work hard to provide a comprehensive package and meaningful choice for your employees. Indeed, in a very competitive employment environment, Decision Support tools, when effectively communicated, can be a deciding factor for a prospective employee because they are a way to safeguard employee’s complex benefit elections. Additionally, Decision Support tools may be the deciding factor when employees are considering leaving your company by articulating the value of the benefits you offer—why leave when it is clear they are offered a competitive benefits package and and the tools to easily elect from those offerings? Whether your system employs any or all of the three Decision Support tools is a conclusion you need to make with your benefits administration vendor and if you decide to offer the tools, you will not regret the choice.

Evan Kraus
by Evan Kraus

H&B Solution Leader, Mercer Marketplace 365+

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