People don’t like choosing health insurance. Less than 10 percent of people change plans each year and the majority would rather do three hours of intense physical activity than examine their plan choices more closely.

Now, that all needs to change – this year may be the most important open enrollment of our lifetime. Because of COVID-19:

  • Everyone is facing a qualifying health event
  • Financial stresses have peaked with a rapidly shrinking economy
  • Over a quarter of companies have changed employee health benefits since the pandemic started

Defaulting to the same health plan this year could have dire consequences for people’s health and finances. But when people are overwhelmed, changing behaviors is even harder. Fortunately, behavioral science can help!

Change is hard. Science can help.

Whether choosing a new health plan or starting a new workout routine, changing behaviors is hard. Behavioral science provides a powerful framework for making change easier. It uses insights from human psychology and decision science to support behavior change—even in the face of uncertainty.

Keep reading for eight strategies to leverage during this year’s open enrollment.

  1. Tweak the situation: People overwhelmingly tend to stick with default options when given a choice. It’s just human nature. Require employees to make a decision this year by removing automatic roll-over options.
  2. Teach and coach: Feeling overwhelmed is a major barrier to change. And, as discussed earlier, choosing a health plan is overwhelming. Employers can help counteract this feeling by providing specific resources that teach employees how to choose the right plan. This could take the form of an amazing virtual benefit fair, robust resource packets, or advanced decision support. Don’t just tell employees to choose a health plan; teach them how to do it.
  3. Concentrate on one behavior: Identify the one behavior that will give your employees security this year. We recommend focusing on driving them to those resources that teach them how to choose the right plan (e.g., attending a virtual health benefit fair, connecting with decision support). After you select that one most important behavior, design all your communications around it. This consistency of messaging will prompt employees towards the action you intend.

Strategies 4-8 focus on guiding employees toward that one key action, whether that’s visiting your benefit fair page, using decision support, or downloading a resource packet.

  1. Focus on current losses, not just potential gains: People find the pain of losing something two times more powerful than the pleasure of gaining. This concept is called “loss aversion,” and it makes loss a powerful motivator for change. Take advantage of this when encouraging employees in a new behavior. For example, show people what they stand to lose if they don’t attend your virtual benefit fair/download your resource packet by highlighting how much money they likely wasted in the wrong plan in the past.
  2. Paint a vivid picture: If you do focus on gains, paint a vivid example. This helps people connect with gains, which are more abstract than losses. For example, MyHealthMath worked with a school district in Arizona and helped employees save 6 percent of their average income. Highlighting this story with other clients has driven up employee engagement because it vividly exemplifies the impact of decision support.
  3. Activate peer pressure: People are motivated by their peers, so use that to influence behavior. For example, encourage people to attend your virtual benefit fair by creating a “refer a friend” program that rewards employees for attending with colleagues. Then, keep track of how many people have attended; as those numbers go up, share them with others so employees don’t want to miss out.
  4. Mobilize key influencers: Identify champions who have a lot of sway among their peers. Influencers might be department leaders or employees who lead internal committees or groups. Tap these individuals to spread your open enrollment resources.
    Pro tip: Never underestimate the power of influencers outside of the office. Send home postcards sharing ways to participate in open enrollment, so that family members are looped in too.
  5. Use carrots: always reward people for adopting a behavioral change. Rewards make people more likely to participate and spread the word. Consider providing gift cards to employees who attend your virtual benefit fair or offering wellness credits to employees who work with decision support.

Now that you know how to help employees make better decisions, take even greater control over your health and finances. Sign up for our newsletter for free resources and advice.

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