Employers look to behavioural economics to drive health plan adherence: survey

More than a third (39 per cent) of U.S. employers see promise in using behavioural economics to help employees adhere to their medical treatment plans, according to a new survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Organizations are employing the theory of behavioural economics through a variety of methods that nudge their workforce to make healthier decisions, the survey noted. They include using disease management programs to guide employees through their treatment plans (42 per cent); offering on-site pharmacies that provide easy access to prescriptions (18 per cent); employing financial incentives or penalties that encourage specific behaviours among employees (18 per cent); using reminder tools, such as text messages for workers (17 per cent); and eliminating barriers through reduced or eliminated copayments for those with chronic diseases (10 per cent).

Read: GSC introduces rewards for good health behaviour

“The theories of behavioural economics tell us that people don’t always make rational decisions when it comes to their own health,” said Julie Stich, associate vice-president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, in a press release. “Whether it’s choosing a health plan or a medical provider, participating in a health risk assessment or taking daily blood pressure medication, we humans don’t always do what’s best for ourselves.

“Employers are looking to behavioural economics to shed light on employees’ sometimes irrational decisions with the ultimate goal of reducing barriers and making healthy behaviours easier.”

Three-quarters of survey respondents said it’s important to their organizations to help employees choose the right health insurance plan. Employers also noted they’ve found success in nudging employees to make better decisions through a range of plan design features, including premium contributions, deductibles or co-insurance (85 per cent); descriptive plan materials (77 per cent); workshops or seminars that provide guidance (45 per cent); and one-on-one counselling sessions (34 per cent).

Read: Fewer workplace cultures encouraging health and wellness: Sanofi survey

“Choosing a health-care plan can be intimidating for employees who are unfamiliar with the language describing plans or are uncertain of their best option. Through clear, concise and targeted communication, employers can help employees enrol in the plan that best meets their needs,” said Stich.

The survey’s respondents also reported using incentives to encourage participation in their workplace wellness programs. The most common were gift cards, non-cash prizes or raffles; cash awards; and gym discounts or reimbursements. Employers said they’re most likely to offer incentives for participation in health screenings, risk assessments, fitness programs and smoking-cessation programs.

Read: Staples Canada’s $750 incentive to quit smoking