Despite rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, employees are generally satisfied with their health plan.
“I thought that was a pleasant surprise,” said Helen Darling (right), president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, referring to the number of respondents (35 percent) who are more satisfied with their coverage compared to three years ago, even though two-thirds of employees have seen their health care costs go up.
Darling spoke Thursday at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to reveal findings from a new employee benefits survey done by the NBGH.
More than 1,500 employees at large companies (2,000 or more employees) participated in the survey entitled, “Perceptions of Health Benefits in a Recovering Economy: A Survey of Employees.”
Overall, nearly two in three workers (63 percent) are very satisfied with their current health coverage provided by their employer or union, according to the survey. What’s more, 87 percent rated health benefits as very important when making a decision about accepting a new job or remaining with their employer, while 78 percent rated retirement benefits as very important, which is up sharply from 63 percent in 2007.
“It’s clear employers have believed for a long time that health benefits are important for recruitment and retention of employees, and this certainly confirms that,” Darling said.
While many employees seem to be happy with the coverage their getting, most – 62 percent – don’t know how much their employers pay for health benefits. Darling estimates employee guesses are off by about $3,000.
This, Darling said, makes it difficult to communicate the perceived value of the benefits that employers try to provide their employees. “Employers need to help employees understand how rich the benefit is that they’re providing. We would strongly recommend a ‘total rewards statement’ so every employee knows what is being paid on their behalf for a health benefits package.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is compounding this misunderstanding by making employees believe their employers have not been providing the level of protection and coverage that the law mandates.
“The No. 1 [importance for employees] is very good coverage for serious illness. Most large employers have very comprehensive coverage at the back end.” Darling said. She noted that many employers were already in sync with PPACA requirements – such as the no lifetime limit provision.
“Employers really need to help employees and family members understand [that] they’ve got the protection for serious illness.”
One-third of employees don't value wellness benefits
Employers investing money in wellness programs may be shocked to realize one-third of their employees don’t think much of those health benefit initiatives.
“Interestingly, 35 percent didn’t consider any [health benefit program] to be very important,” Darling said. “Employers might look at that and say, 'I’m spending a lot of money and a third of the people I’m spending it on behalf of don’t think it’s very important.'”
On the bright side, Darling noted, the ones who value wellness programs the most are those in poorer health. “Less healthy employees see many of the programs as more important than those in excellent health. You could say this is good news because, to be honest, [employers] aren’t worried about the ones who are in excellent health.”
Some workers may believe wellness programs aren’t right for them, but overall, 77 percent believe it is right for employers to offer these programs to control costs.
Out of the many health management benefits that employers can provide four in 10 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) don't believe employees should be required to participate in a wellness program in order to qualify for getting health insurance and even more, 71 percent, don’t think employers should charge employees more for health coverage if they don’t meet specific health goals.
Employees not confident in insurance purchases
One-third of employees say they’re not confident about shopping for insurance on their own. Fifty-three percent lack confidence that they could buy comparable or better insurance than what their employers provide.
This information comes on the heels of a new Deloitte study that found roughly 9 percent of employers are ready to drop their health coverage in 2014 when state health insurance exchanges will be there for consumers left without work coverage.
But as the NBGH survey proves, employers will need to weigh the value of health benefits in attracting and retaining skilled employees.
“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,” Darling said.
“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.”