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Tech tools help employees make smart decisions


Technology-based decision support tools come in a variety of forms. At Chicago-based bswift L.L.C., the “Ask Emma” decision support tool uses national claims data and the employee’s demographic information, salary and number of dependents to determine the “most economical plan options” for the user, said Don Garlitz, bswift’s Salt Lake City-based senior vice president.

Employees also can answer questions about how they plan to use the coverage or defer, he said.

“As you go through the tools, she’s interactive,” he said of Ask Emma. If the employee defers, the decision support relies on the data provided by the employer. But answering the questions “gives us a little better sense of where that person’s utilization might fall for the year,” he said.

Charleston, South Carolina-based benefits technology provider Benefitfocus Inc. works with each employer to determine five to seven questions that “get at these eligibility and preference-based decision points and help us come up with what we call the ‘best plan recommendation,’ ” said Shandon Fowler, the company’s director of product management for marketplaces.

“We know that consumers spend not a ton of time during open enrollment,” he said, so the decision support helps “make the most of that time that they spend.”

Decision support “takes some different forms,” said Scot Marcotte, Chicago-based director of talent and human resource solutions with Buck Consultants at Xerox. “When the individual is going through the election process, for example, we might help them with some just-in-time education or content. If they are going through a medical choice, we might help them … narrow down to two options or three options instead of 40 or 50,” he said.

Businessolver Inc.’s MyChoice tool looks beyond an employee’s risk tolerance and behavior to the “emotional” side, “because buying insurance isn’t always a rational decision,” said Rae Shanahan, the firm’s Des Moines, Iowa-based executive vice president.

MyChoice factors in not only whether a worker has enough savings to pay a full $5,000 deductible when catastrophe strikes, but whether they can emotionally stomach it. If not, then a high-deductible health plan with the lowest premium may not be the best option, Ms. Shanahan said.

While many decision support tools gather employee preferences by asking a series of questions, Boston-based Maxwell Health’s tool uses demographics alone.

The company works with the employer to pinpoint “different cohorts that exist within their population,” then predicts the “lifestyle bundles” of benefits most likely to appeal to those populations, said Vinay Gidwaney, the provider’s Boston-based co-founder and chief product officer.

“Instead of you making 10 different little decisions and frankly being exhausted by the first three … you’re recommended the right way to think about (benefits) and then can dig into the details if you choose,” he said.

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