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Employees Want Personalized Plans that Support Health Improvement
Employers fall short in efforts to engage workers in health and wellness

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  11/28/2011
 

Workers want their employers to do more to help them improve their health and make better use of their health and wellness benefits, according to a 2011 survey from consultancies Aon Hewitt and The Futures Co. and from the nonprofit National Business Group on Health. Respondents included more than 3,000 employees and their dependents in the U.S. covered by employer health plans.

“Employers continue to face countless challenges when it comes to offering health plans that effectively meet the needs of workers and their families while also managing rising costs,” said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “Consumers are telling us that the one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness isn’t working for them. They want health programs that speak to their individual and families’ health care needs.”

Make It Easy

Workers are willing to try a consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) if the immediate cost savings are apparent, according to the survey. (Separate research by Aon Hewitt, polling 1,000 U.S. employers, revealed that nearly 51 percent of employers offered a CDHP in 2011.)

Among employees who were given a choice between a traditional health plan and a CDHP option, and who chose the CDHP, respondents said the main reason they selected the CDHP was because of:

The CDHP’s lower premium costs (cited by 63 percent of respondents).

Their employer’s contributions to an associated health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) (39 percent).

Moreover, over 90 percent of those who selected the CDHP said they definitely or probably will re-enroll in the CDHP option.

While CDHPs are intended, in part, to encourage workers to take a more active role in their health care, the survey indicates that the plans are having a mixed effect on behaviors:

42 percent of employees with a CDHP are getting more preventive care.

40 percent are looking for lower-cost health services options since choosing the CDHP plan.

More troubling, 35 percent are sacrificing care and 28 percent are postponing care to avoid out-of-pocket costs.

“Employers need to make sure workers aren’t sacrificing health and the future costs of poor health for lower costs today,” said Cathy Tripp, managing principal for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt and project leader for this study. “Giving employees the tools and advice to decide what is the most appropriate plan for them is critical.”

Make It Personal

When it comes to tools to help workers make health decisions, respondents cited their preference for:

A personalized plan that recommends specific actions they can take to improve their health based on their health status (cited by 50 percent of respondents).

Cost-saving tips (44 percent).

A wellness website (40 percent).

Personalized health tips and reminders (35 percent).

Cost-estimating tools (33 percent).

“If companies truly want to move the needle in terms of overall health and cost, they have to stop looking at employees as one group and start looking at the individual,” emphasized Joann Hall Swenson, principal and health engagement best practice leader at Aon Hewitt. Employers can customize health information and related programs to address the health conditions and risks that are predominant among their workers, Swenson noted. In addition, “offering tools that allow individuals to see and understand the cost of their health care services goes a long way in helping workers make the most of their health care dollars.”

Make It Move Me

According to consumers, the best way to motivate them to participate in employer-sponsored health plans is by using rewards. Consumers prefer cash or noncash incentives that encourage them to:

Take part in wellness (cited by 60 percent of respondents).

Respond to a health risk questionnaire (58 percent).

Participate in disease management programs (50 percent).

Most people cite lack of time (42 percent), cost (40 percent) and unwillingness to sacrifice (35 percent) as the leading obstacles to getting and staying healthy.

“It’s clear that when it comes to improving their health, knowing what to do and acting on it are two vastly different things for consumers,” Swenson explained. “They have made it clear that they don’t need employers to focus a lot on explaining to them why they should change their health behaviors. Instead, they’d rather that their companies provide tools, programs and, perhaps most importantly, time to help them make positive health choices despite the barriers in their lives.”

Make It Meaningful

More than one-third (36 percent) of consumers did not participate in a health program or service offered by their employer in 2011. Among the programs that workers did participate in, blood tests and biometric screenings were the most popular (61 percent participation), followed by health risk assessments (57 percent participation).

In addition to lack of awareness about these programs, many consumers don’t feel that their employers are fully supportive in helping them to get and stay healthy. A majority of workers (60 percent) think their company is moderately supportive or not supportive when it comes to their efforts to be healthy. Just 13 percent consider their employer to be a trusted source for health information.

“Employers may be missing the mark when it comes to health improvement programs being offered to workers,” Tripp said. “Workers need to see that their efforts to become healthy are supported by the company. Developing a culture where leaders care and support healthful living communicates to workers that this matters to the company.”

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

Related Articles:

Employers Accelerate Efforts to Control Health Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2011

Promoting Health Care Consumerism: A Multifaceted Approach, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2011

HSAs Viewed as Cost-Saving Option by Employers and Account Holders, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2011

Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011

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