Virtual guide helps take guesswork out of benefits decisions

Screen shot from ALEX compares the HMO and PPO health insurance

A screen shot from a session with ALEX, Iowa State's new virtual benefits counselor, shows a comparison of the HMO and PPO health insurance plans.

A newly available virtual counselor can help faculty and staff navigate Iowa State's employee benefits options as they consider their choices for the upcoming year.

The free tool, called ALEX, is an interactive guide that explains how benefits work, analyzes the pros and cons of different offerings, asks questions that can help inform choices and proposes personalized suggestions for what benefits to select. Personable spoken narration using plain language and visual aids leads employees through a review of available benefits – helpful preparation for the open enrollment period for 2023 benefits that runs Nov. 1-18. All benefits options on ALEX reflect updated costs.  

Getting smart about health plans

In an opportunity separate from ALEX, UHR and ISU Extension and Outreach are jointly offering employees a one-hour workshop to learn more about using health insurance. The free virtual sessions will cover health care terminology, health insurance coverage, in-network versus out-of-network providers, preventative services, estimating costs and more. Register online for a session on Oct. 24 (3-4 p.m.) or Oct. 25 (noon-1 p.m.).  

Personal information provided during the virtual sessions is confidential and helps create more accurate recommendations. For example, ALEX asks about expected medical needs to calculate out-of-pocket costs and suggest which health insurance plan may work best, which also helps it propose an amount to devote to a flexible spending account and estimate the tax savings.

Using ALEX is optional, and the benefits choices it suggests are only recommendations. Employees still must choose their benefits in Workday during open enrollment. A link to ALEX is on the university human resources (UHR) website and will be available throughout the year, even after open enrollment closes.

ALEX will be useful to new hires and employees eligible for midyear benefits changes, and it includes information about some additional employee benefits that don't come up in open enrollment.

Offering a virtual advisor accessible online at any time is another method for helping faculty and staff learn about the extent of the benefits available to them and to understand those options, said Ed Holland, UHR director of benefits and WorkLife.

"ALEX is a new way to support employees and educate them about the tremendous benefits ISU provides," Holland said.

Individual consultations are still available from UHR's benefits team, which can be reached at