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Principle #4: Offer Guidance in the Form of Decision Support

When employees are empowered to choose their own combination of plans and products to create a portfolio of benefits that fit their needs and their budget, how can they go about making the right decisions for their individual situations? Decision support provides guidance for these important choices, and can take many forms.

Decision support can be as simple as access to a live advisor who gathers information about each person’s unique situation. Liazon uses an online questionnaire to ask an employee a series of questions related to, among other things, the employee’s expectations of care usage (such as pregnancy or prescription drug use), risk tolerance, financial position, and health status. The tool predicts a full range of possible health care expense outcomes to determine the package of plans that best fits the employee’s needs.

Liazon also makes information available in the form of plan summaries and detailed plan overviews, along with plan comparison tools, for more analytics-oriented employees who need to see and compare the numbers in order to understand their options. An employee might consider a recommendation for a medical plan as a base and then choose a plan that is a step up or step down from the recommended plan (in terms of price and plan design), based on the information obtained through deeper research into the options.

Other forms of support might be offered, such as online “avatars,” which use a search functionality to serve up answers to users’ particular questions. Decision support can be as basic as setting up kiosks for live on-site Q&A support, holding traditional meetings in which employees can get their questions answered by HR or brokers, or making brokers or other service representatives available on the phone or via web chat to address employee concerns.

Finally, decision support may include interactive education tools. An employee may, for example, review informational material or watch an educational video explaining the benefits and services offered. With information available at the point of purchase, the employee can better understand why the particular product or plan was recommended, step up or down from that option, or shop for a different offering within the exchange.

Different types of employees will respond to different support avenues, and the key is to offer a range of informative options that allow an employee to make meaningful choices (see Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Liazon’s Decision Support Model.

If you were providing decision support for individuals to buy cars rather than benefits, you could assume a general baseline knowledge of cars among members of the group. All will know cars are a means of transport, have four wheels, run on gas, and so on. The more you can find out from individuals how they plan to use their vehicles, the more apparent it becomes which vehicle best suits each person’s needs. For some individuals, a pickup truck might make the most sense, whereas for others, a convertible or a sedan or a jeep might be the best fit.

Choice can be overwhelming. Decision support makes it not only manageable but optimal. Is Amazon overwhelming? Not when it helps you narrow down the choices and suggests what products you might like, based on what it knows about you. In the case of benefits choices, it’s not about the size of the portfolio or the tier of the plan; it’s about the right fit for each individual. And when employees are guided by robust decision support, employers don’t have to worry that they are not capable of choosing their own plans.

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