For Immediate Release
May 30, 2018

Contact:
Brenda Hofmann
brendah@ifebp.org | (262) 373-7756

Employers Nudge Employees to Good Health Through Behavioral Economics

Brookfield, Wisconsin—As employers look to control health care costs and keep their workers healthy, a relatively new area of interest has emerged—behavioral economics. This area of study blends insights of psychology and economics and can provide a framework for employers to understand their employees' decisions and encourage healthier behaviors.

Many employers are already implementing the theories of behavioral economics in their employee benefit plans and communications, and nearly two in five are interested in learning more about how to do so. During a recent gathering of industry leaders from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 39 percent reported that they are interested in using behavioral economics to help employees adhere to medical treatment plans.

"The theories of behavioral economics tell us that people don't always make rational decisions when it comes to their own health," said Julie Stich, CEBS, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. "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 behavioral economics to shed light on employees' sometimes irrational decisions with the ultimate goal of reducing barriers and making healthy behaviors easier."

Helping employees make wise health care choices is important to a majority of employers consulted; 72 percent of responding employers indicated it is important to their organizations to help workers follow the medical guidance recommend by their doctors. Organizations are employing the theories of behavioral economics through a variety of methods that nudge their workforce to make healthier decisions. Among responding employers:

  • 42 percent use disease management programs to guide employees step by step through their treatment plans
  • 18 percent offer on-site pharmacies that provide easy access to prescriptions
  • 18 percent employ financial incentives or penalties that encourage specific behaviors among employees
  • 17 percent use reminder tools such as text messages for workers
  • 10 percent eliminate barriers through reduced or eliminated copayments for those with chronic diseases.

Three in four employers report that it's important to their organizations to help employees select the right health insurance plan. Eighty-five percent of employers have found success in helping employees make better decisions through plan design features such as premium contributions, deductibles or coinsurance; 77 percent through descriptive plan materials; 45 percent through workshops or seminars that provide guidance; and 34 percent through one-on-one counseling sessions. 

"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 enroll in the plan that best meets their needs," said Stich.

Employers also report using incentives to encourage participation in their wellness programs—most commonly gift cards, noncash prizes or raffles; cash awards; or gym discounts or reimbursements. Employers are most likely to offer incentives for participation in health screenings, health risk assessments, fitness programs and smoking-cessation programs.

Findings above were gathered during an April 2018 International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans board and committee meeting of thought leaders from employers across the U.S. and Canada and from the report Workplace Wellness Trends: 2017 Survey Results.

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The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans is the premier educational organization dedicated to providing the diverse employee benefits community with objective, solution-oriented education, research and information to ensure the health and financial security of plan beneficiaries worldwide. The International Foundation has more than 33,000 multiemployer, corporate and public sector members representing over 25 million lives. For additional information, visit www.ifebp.org