How does a decision support tool work?

Here’s a scary statistic for you: according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 80% of employers struggle to get employees to read benefits enrollment materials during Open Enrollment. Can you really blame the employees though? A lot of the time these materials are long, boring, and filled with a bunch of jargon they don’t understand.

Instead of wasting all of that paper (and money!) printing out materials they won’t read anyway, try going the digital route instead. Sure, you can go ahead and provide them with the same materials digitally, but supplement those with a decision support tool.

What is a Decision Support Tool?

In the benefits world, a decision support tool is an online resource that helps your employees with their benefits decisions. It’s an interactive tool – often with a voiceover component – that keeps them engaged much more than a stack of flyers ever could. Essentially, it works like this:

  1. An employee answers simple questions about their household, expenses, and benefits goals.
  2. The decision support tool educates the employee about their choices and makes personalized recommendations based on the information they entered.
  3. The tool will guide employees through optimizing their contributions
  4. The employee can use those recommendations to enroll in the benefits that best suit their needs.

So let’s say Toby, a 31-year-old man with a wife and two young kids, is filling out the tool. Here’s the process he would follow:

Step 1: Enter Information

Depending on the decision support tool he’s using and how it’s configured, Toby might enter information about:

  • The names/ages of himself, his wife, and children
  • Their household income and local zip code*
  • Routine health care costs for the year (e.g., primary/specialist costs, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Expected vision and dental care needs (e.g., annual eye exam, glasses or contact lenses, fillings, etc.)
  • Planned/unexpected medical and life events (e.g., MRI, CT scan, kidney stones, etc.)
  • Wellness incentives**
  • Estimated child care expenses for the year
  • Expected costs for the year related to routine healthcare, medical events, vision, dental, and child care expenses

*A high-quality decision support tool will use a person’s zip code to provide average costs for many of the expenses listed above based on location. These costs can be adjusted manually by the person using the tool.

**Some decision support tools can be designed to include wellness incentives. For example, reducing plan premiums by a certain amount if a person doesn’t smoke.

Step 2: Get Benefits Recommendations

Based on the information Toby enters, the decision support tool would show him his:

  • Medical, dental and vision coverage options with his monthly premiums
  • Estimated out-of-pocket and net costs for each coverage option based on information entered

Let’s say that Toby decides to enroll in his company’s high-deductible health plan and opts out of enrolling in dental or vision coverage.

Step 3: Receive Suggestions to Optimize Contributions

Based on Toby’s choices in the previous step and the benefits offered by his employer, the tool will then present other benefits options he has:

  • His employer’s Dependent Care FSA to save on child care expenses
  • A Health Savings Account to save on medical expenses
  • A Limited Purpose FSA to save on dental and vision expenses
  • A 401(k) to save money for retirement

A good decision support tool will not only present these options, but educate the person filling it out about WHY they should consider that option. After learning about the benefits of the above accounts, Toby is going to opt into all four.

Step 4: Review His Personalized Benefits Action Plan

Finally, Toby is presented with a summary of his benefits choices. This includes:

  • Basic information about his health plan coverage
  • Which accounts he decided to enroll in
  • The dollar amounts he should contribute
  • Estimated savings

Toby can then use this information to optimize his benefits as he enrolls.

Like what you’re reading? BRI Insights can do all of this AND MORE! With a virtual guide available English and Spanish, this affordable tool is highly customizable and comes with an email campaign executed by us to increase participation. Watch the video below to learn more.