As of 2019, over half of employers offered tools to help employees choose a health plan. Two years and a global pandemic later, decision support tools have only become more effective with new data-driven and personalized technologies. As we move into 2022, their continued evolution is all but guaranteed, but what does that future look like? The 2021-2022 Aflac WorkForces Report offers five clues about the future of benefit decision support.

Source: The 2021-2022 Aflac WorkForces Report, conducted by Kantar

Workplace Benefits Trends, The State of Workplace Benefits
Workplace Benefits Trends, Benefits Enrollment + the Informed Consumer

Decision support tools are here to stay

Unsurprisingly, benefits continue to be critical parts of employers’ recruitment, retainment, and employee wellness strategies. Over 70 percent of employees surveyed confirmed the importance of benefits to job satisfaction, as well as their overall physical, mental, emotional, and financial health.

However, employers think employees are more satisfied with their benefits than employees actually are. (Aflac found a 14-percentage gap between employer’s perceptions of employee satisfaction and what employee’s reported.) This gap suggests the continued need to seek out tools and services that help employees understand and make the best use of the benefits their employers offer.

Decision support can reduce the satisfaction gap by addressing three pain points Aflac’s report revealed:

  1. Stress about their benefit choices. Fifty three percent of employees are stressed out about trying to understand what insurance or benefits they need. Giving employees individualized guidance about their benefit options helps them choose between different plans.
  2. Stress about enrollment. Forty three percent of employees surveyed said they found the enrollment process stressful. Decision support provides education and personal support at every step of open enrollment.
  3. Confusion about total costs. Nearly 60 percent of employees say that they don’t understand their total annual costs for health care, while almost half said they could not afford to pay over $1,000 in out-of-pocket costs for an unexpected illness or injury. Decision support helps employees understand the total costs of their health care, so they aren’t in for unwelcome surprises later in the year.

Decision support must-haves: easy-to-use, effective, and include a personal touch

Inertia continues to be a problem, with most employees choosing the same benefits year after year. The easiest way to break this inertia? Get choosing benefits to feel less like a chore that rarely pays off.

Decision support makes choosing the right benefit plan easy (and we’d argue enjoyable!), but only when it follows these guidelines:

  1. It needs to be easy-to-understand and convenient. Employees spend less than 30-minutes researching their benefits, so solutions that take a long time or are hard to understand and use won’t cut it.
  2. Proof of value is essential. No one wants to waste their time and effort on something that might not help them. Decision support solutions that can back up their claims with proof (e.g., the dollars they save employees) are the path forward.
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of personal touch. Aflac found that an increased number of employees, particularly millennials and Gen Z-ers, want access to a benefits consultant when choosing their benefits. Including live support gives digital decision support solutions a needed personal touch.

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Decision support needs to focus on employER cost savings

Rising benefit costs have made it harder for employers to offer a comprehensive benefits package without surpassing their budget. Increased benefit costs, noted by 60 percent of employers, have affected bonuses and raises, and caused many employers to increase employee share of premiums, employee copays, and employee deductibles. 

Along with saving employees money on total health care costs, enterprise decision support creates value for employers too. It helps them save on premiums and payroll taxes—which can help offset the increased cost of benefits. For employers forced to raise employee contributions, decision support makes those added costs more palatable. When employees move into a cost-effective plan, they may still save more money in the long run.

The permanence of remote work underscores decision support’s value

The days of all in-person benefit meetings and open enrollment fairs are behind us. Due to increased remote work opportunities, nearly half of the employees Aflac surveyed enrolled in this year’s benefits from their home. Moving forward, it’s paramount that employers have the tools to help their employees learn and ask questions about their benefit options virtually.

Decision support solutions, especially those that marry the ease of high-tech with live support, can help employees learn about their benefits from home, creating a virtual open enrollment experience that caters to each individual’s needs.

Carrier-sponsored decision support can build goodwill

Benefits are deeply personal. They affect people’s health, finances, and overall well-being. It’s not surprising then that most employees (79 percent) want their benefit companies/providers to actually care about them as people. Aflac found that when employees feel that their benefit providers care for them, they are more confident about their coverage and more convinced that their employers care about them as well.

How can benefit providers show they care? Decision support is an easy place to start. By providing decision support, health carriers show their members that they want to help them get the care they need at a price they can afford. It shows that they acknowledge that this process is too confusing, and they’re willing to cover the costs for a solution.

Read more: Case Study: Carrier Sponsored Decision Support, a simple step for driving better health outcomes.