Benefits, HR News & Trends

Survey: Workers Not Too Concerned About Hikes in Health Care Costs

Health care communications

Workers who have slogged through the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery — and managed to stay employed — are a resilient bunch. 

Yes, America’s workforce has been through a lot, and perhaps that’s what makes them a lot less worried about so many of the minor annoyances that go with staying employed these days. 

You know — minor annoyances such as increases in the cost of your company-provided health care.

63% are very satisfied with their health coverage

That’s the big message I take away from this new survey from the National Business Group on Health, the nation’s only non-profit, membership organization of large employers “devoted exclusively to finding innovative and forward-thinking solutions to their most important health care and related benefits issues.”

Here are the key points that popped out of the latest NBGH survey that was released today (Thursday July 26):

  • Nearly two in three workers overall (63 percent) are very satisfied with their current health coverage provided by their employer or union;
  • And, despite the fact that nearly two thirds of workers have experienced higher premiums and out of pocket costs, roughly one-third (35 percent) are more satisfied with their coverage compared to three years ago;
  • Only 12 percent say they are less satisfied, and the remaining 53 percent said their satisfaction level has remained the same;
  • Interestingly, while workers are generally satisfied with their health benefits, a majority (62 percent) are unable to estimate how much their employers pay for their health benefits.  

87% rate employer health benefits as important

I think you can chalk all of this up to “economic fatigue.” If you have a job and have been through the recession and lukewarm recovery, you have probably put up with a lot — pay cuts, freezes, furloughs, layoffs, buyouts, increased workload, and more. How big a deal is a hike in health care premiums and/or an increase in out of pocket costs compared to that?

The National Business Group on Health survey also found that 87 percent of employees rated health benefits as very important when making a decision about accepting a new job or remaining with their employer (wonder what those other 13 percent are thinking?), while 78 percent rated retirement benefits as very important, which is up sharply from 63 percent in 2007.

“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, in a press release about the survey.

“And while employers can take pride in the high value that their employees place on health benefits,” she added,”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.”

That’s a sobering point. There are concerns that some employers may simply decide to reject health care coverage for employees altogether in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on health care reform (aka, Obamacare). They may simply pay the penalty and push workers to the new health care exchanges for coverage instead.

Case in point: earlier this week, a survey from global HR consultant Deloitte found that nearly 10 percent of employers anticipate dropping health coverage for their workers in the next three years as medical costs keep rising, and others have speculated that the actual number of organizations that choose to go that way may actually be larger.

Mixed reactions to wellness programs

This latest NBGH survey also asked about wellness — something that many companies are pushing for employees in order to help hold down costs. The findings were mildly interesting, and somewhat predictable:

  • Nearly four in ten employees (39 percent) ranked biometric screenings as a very important health benefit program, followed by exercise programs (31 percent) and on-site fitness centers (31 percent).
  • Less healthy respondents give a higher rating to programs in stress management, weight loss, and coaching, programs,
  • However, most employees (68 percent) do not believe employees should be required to participate in a wellness program in order to qualify for getting health insurance;
  • Even more – 71 percent — don’t think employers should charge employees more for health coverage if they don’t meet specific health goals.

The National Business Group on Health survey, “Perceptions of Health Benefits in a Recovering Economy: A Survey of Employees,” was conducted from late May through early June. A total of 1,545 employees at organizations with 2,000 or more employees responded to the survey. Respondents were between the ages of 22 and 69 and receive their health care benefits through their employer or union.

There will certainly be a lot more health care surveys coming that will attempt to get their hands around the issue of health care costs and how employees and employers both will react to them in the wake of the federal health care mandate. I don’t think you’ll find any single one that really tells you all you need to know, so consider this just one of many that will dig into the subject.

Still, I’m struck by how workers seem to keep rolling with the punches when it comes to increased costs and picking up more of the ongoing price increases that keep getting passed their way.

Of course, there’s not much employees can do about the increases, but that fact that they won’t even gripe about it in an anonymous survey like this one tells you a lot about their state of mind, and perhaps, that they just want to keep the health care benefits they already have even if they continue to cost a lot more with each passing year.

John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices. Contact him at john@tlnt.com, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnhollon.