Employees value Health Benefits, Skeptical About Health Reform

By Stephen Miller Nov 9, 2010

Ninety percent of U.S. employees who receive health benefits through their employers say that these benefits are as important as getting a salary, according to a workplace survey conducted by HR consultancy Mercer. Moreover, 83 percent of participants say that the out-of-pocket expenses they pay probably or definitely are worth the cost, up significantly from 73 percent in 2008 (see Table 1).

Survey respondents represent a national cross-section of employees enrolled in their employer’s health plan. Interviews were completed with 1,502 participants between May 27 and June 15, 2010.

Table 1. Out of Pocket for Health Benefits

“Given what you pay out of your own pocket for your health benefits, would you say these benefits are …?”


The feeling that health benefits are “worth it” in relation to out-of-pocket expenses is spread across all demographic sections and is particularly high among participants 50 years of age and older (see Table 2).

Table 2. By Age, Out of Pocket for Health Benefits

“Given what you pay out of your own pocket for your health benefits, would you say these benefits are definitely worth it?”


“It stands to reason that as a result of the recent global recession, high unemployment and general uncertainty, employees have such positive feelings about their employer-sponsored health plan coverage,” said Suzanne Nolan, a partner in Mercer’s outsourcing business. “This resounding appreciation from employees across the board presents employers with a great opportunity to design and optimally position their health benefits as a critical component of their total rewards and employee engagement strategies.”

Skepticism Toward Health Care Reform

In contrast to the positive sentiment participants feel toward their current employer-sponsored health benefits, employees are not comfortable with the impact health care reform might have on them. In fact, more than 43 percent of this covered population sees their situation as becoming “worse off” in light of health care reform.

This skepticism coincides with the general unease and anxiety participants feel about planning for health care expenses in retirement. Just under 37 percent of participants are “somewhat” or “very confident” that they know how they will cover this expense, a statistic that has remained consistent since 2008.

This anxiety toward health care reform is felt most keenly by those closest to retirement. Participants 50 years old and older view health care reform more negatively than participants overall in every related aspect of the survey (see Table 3).

Table 3. Health Care Reform – ‘Worse Off’
“From what you have heard or read, how do you expect health care reform recently passed by Congress to affect you personally when it comes to …”


“These concerns are understandable given that we see employers looking to shift some of the costs associated with health care reform to employees,” said Tracy Watts, a partner in Mercer’s health and benefits business. "It is crucial that employers understand employee skepticism within the context of planning and communicating their 2011 health care benefits offering.”

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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