Growing Unease Reported with Wage/Benefit Mix

An ‘intensifying desire for real wage growth’ noted

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 23, 2015
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Although most workers are satisfied with the health benefits they have now, nearly one-third would change the mix of wages and health benefits, according to new research from the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Nearly 70 percent of American workers said they were satisfied with the mix of wages and health benefits they receive, while 12 percent said they would trade wages to get more health benefits, and 19 percent would surrender some health benefits for higher wages. The percentage reporting that they would rather have fewer health benefits and higher wages has nearly doubled from 10 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2014.

“This growing interest in trading benefits for wages may reflect an intensifying desire for real wage growth in the wake of the Great Recession,” wrote Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and co-author of the report.

Among other survey highlights, “Choice of health plans is important to workers, and they would like more choices,” Fronstin noted. “But most workers express confidence that their employers or unions have selected the best available health plan—and they are not as confident in their ability to choose the best available plan if their employers or unions did, in fact, stop offering coverage.”

EBRI found that if current tax preferences for employment-based health benefits were to change, and the benefits were to become taxable to employees, nearly half (47 percent) of individuals say they would continue with their current level of coverage. This is up from 40 percent in 2012.

Among other survey findings:

  • The importance of benefits as criteria in choosing a job remains high among American workers, and health insurance in particular continues to be, by far, the most important employee benefit to workers. This finding has remained constant even following enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has raised questions about whether employers (and in particular, small firms not subject to the ACA’s “shared responsibility” mandate) will continue to offer group health coverage to their workers in the future.
  • Workers don’t feel highly comfortable about their ability to use an objective rating system to choose health insurance, nor are they extremely confident that a rating system could help them choose the best health insurance. These concerns could be eased if it becomes apparent that using the ACA’s public health care exchanges (through the healthcare.gov website) to compare and select coverage is the user-friendly experience it was intended to be.

The report, "Views on Employment-Based Health Benefits: Findings from the 2014 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey," was published in the February 2015 EBRI Notes.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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