Consumers unprepared for health care reform

Health care reform is designed to bring consumers more health care options, but many are not necessarily prepared to take more control and lack the proper education to make these choices.

Those are the major findings of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report, which reveals that 72 percent of workers have never heard the term "consumer-driven health care," and that 54 percent of workers do not want more control over their health care because they do not have the time or knowledge to manage these decisions.

Furthermore, 75 percent of consumer respondents believe their employers should provide education regarding changes to their health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act; however, only 13 percent of employer respondents consider this important to their companies.  

“It may be referred to as ‘consumer-driven health care,’ but in actuality, consumers aren’t the ones driving these changes, so it’s no surprise that many feel unprepared,” said Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president of Corporate Services at Aflac. “The bottom line is if consumers aren’t educated about the full scope of their options, they risk making costly mistakes without a financial back-up plan.”

Consumer respondents even find the idea of more health care decisions intimidating, the study found, with 53 percent saying they are worried about properly managing coverage, which could result in fewer protections for their families.

Another 89 percent said they choose the same health care coverage each year but fail to understand their options.  

When it comes to health savings accounts, 32 percent of consumer respondents admit lacking knowledge.

Seventy-six percent of consumer respondents say they are not well-versed in federal and state health exchanges, while 49 percent of consumer respondents say they are not knowledgeable about health reimbursement accounts.

Flexible spending accounts are also challenging for consumer respondents, with 25 percent saying they lack an understanding.

Despite the knowledge gap, employers are moving forward with placing more responsibility on employees.

The study finds that 53 percent of employer respondents report bringing in high-deductible health plans in the last three years. But employees are still behind the trend, with 55 percent saying they have yet to prepare for the potential changes to the health care system.

Only 23 percent report increasing their savings to battle possible higher medical costs, and 46 percent of consumer respondents say they have less than $1,000 in savings designated for out-of-pocket expenses that come with unexpected illnesses or accidents. Twenty-five percent of consumer respondents say they have less than $500 for those costs.

“It’s time for consumers to face reality,” Tillman said. “Ready or not, they are being put in control of their health insurance decisions — and that means having to make choices that could have a big impact on personal finances. If employers aren’t offering guidance to workers on how to make crucial benefits decisions, the responsibility lies in the hands of consumers to educate themselves.”

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