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Most Satisfied with Health Benefits Despite Higher Costs
But employees reject paying more for failing to meet wellness goals

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  7/27/2012

Despite higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs for health care benefits, U.S. workers’ satisfaction levels with employer-provided health care coverage has either risen or remained the same compared to three years earlier, according to a survey by the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit association of large employers.

The survey, Perceptions of Health Benefits in a Recovering Economy, was conducted from late May through early June 2012. A total of 1,545 employees at U.S. organizations with 2,000 or more employees responded to the survey.

Employees Like Their Benefits

Among the survey highlights:

63 percent of respondents were very satisfied with their current health coverage provided by their employer or union, although nearly two-thirds had experienced higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs over the past three years.

Roughly one-third were more satisfied with their coverage compared to three years earlier. Only 12 percent were less satisfied and 53 percent said their satisfaction level had remained the same.

87 percent of employees rated health benefits as very important when making a decision about accepting a new job or remaining with their employer

Roughly one in three were not confident in their ability to shop for health insurance on their own, and more than half were not confident they could purchase the same or better quality insurance on their own.

While workers expressed satisfaction with their health benefits, a majority (62 percent) were unable to estimate how much their employers pay for their health benefits.

“Employers continue to make significant investments in the health of their employees, even though the slow recovery has left many employers and the overall economy struggling,” said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “And while employers can take pride in the high value that their employees place on health benefits, with costs continuing to rise faster than the health of their businesses or the economy, many employers will need to think carefully about how much they can or want to spend on health benefits. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the health care reform law and a future that will include health exchanges where individuals can shop for and buy insurance, some employers will be carefully weighing their options.”

Health Care vs. Other Rewards

The survey found that 78 percent of employees rated retirement benefits as very important, up sharply from 63 percent in 2007. However, if their employer had to reduce total rewards, most employees (46 percent) preferred to see their retirement benefits reduced follow by health benefits (32 percent) and then salaries (22 percent).

“Although employees would like to see their retirement benefits improved and may feel their retirement savings have suffered over the past five years, they aren’t willing to have that improvement come at the expense of their health benefits or even salary. The weakened economy and higher expenses such as gas and commuting have likely put pressure on just how far their take home pay can go,” said Darling.

Employees Oppose Linking Cost to
Wellness Participation or Goals

The survey found nearly four in 10 employees (39 percent) ranked biometric screenings as a very important wellness benefit followed by exercise programs (31 percent) and on-site fitness centers (31 percent). Respondents who self-identified as less healthy gave a higher rating to programs in stress management, weight loss and health coaching.

However, most employees (68 percent) did not believe employees should be required to participate in a wellness program in order to qualify for getting health insurance. Even more—71 percent—didn’t think employers should charge employees more for health coverage if they don’t meet specific health goals.

It's no surprise that employees oppose changes they perceive as benefit reductions. The challenge for those that provide outcome-based health incentives is to communicate that making healthier behavior choices is an opportunity to save money (see the SHRM Online article "Guidance for Outcomes-Based Wellness Incentives.")

Among the survey’s other significant findings:

Good news—most respondents (88 percent) felt their personal goals were  achievable; 70 percent were happy with the direction in their life and two-thirds (66 percent) had enough energy most days.

Not-so-good news—less than half of respondents (47 percent) felt financially secure, one-third (36 percent) were overwhelmed by stress and only three in 10 (29 percent) felt as healthy as they could be.

Related Article:

Provider Networks, Premiums Drive Health Plan Choices, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2012

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Benefits Discipline

SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

SHRM Online Retirement Plans Resource Page

SHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page

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