Recession Causing Employees to Make Lifestyle Changes to Control Costs

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , May 28, 2009

The recession is taking a toll on American employees' health and consequently motivating them to make behavioral changes—for better or for worse—and to better control their own healthcare costs, according to a new survey released Wednesday by the Washington-based National Business Group on Health.

"These data confirm that the widespread economic anxiety is cascading onto individual workers' health and well-being," said NBGH President Helen Darling in a statement. However, this environment also is presenting "teachable moments" that can produce new views on promoting a culture of health, such as by making healthier food choices and increased exercise.

NBGH commissioned this survey to find out how the recession is affecting American workers and to provide a picture about those areas where businesses can work more closely with their employees to help support them.

Among the key findings are that the recession is taking a toll on employees' physical and mental health. Approximately 27% reported forgoing healthcare treatment to save money on copayments or coinsurance costs. Also, 20% said they skipped taking their prescription drug medication dosage as prescribed by their physicians. Many workers, particularly older workers (44% of those aged 45-64), reported that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.

The employees surveyed also said they were more sensitive to the cost of healthcare, with 72% saying they have become more aware of the total cost of healthcare services in the past year and 56% saying they were more aware of what they pay for health insurance. Nearly all employees reported reviewing their health plan options during their last annual enrollment period and about a quarter changed health plans as a result.

Health improvement also appears to be becoming more of a priority than a year ago. More than half of the survey respondents (52%) report that living a healthy lifestyle was more of a priority than it was a year ago. Also, 34% reported exercising more, and 46% said they are eating healthier. Forty-four percent reported that they were eating out less at fast food restaurants.

NBGH represents 300 large employers, including 60 of the Fortune 100, and provides health benefits to more than 55 million American workers, dependents, and retirees. The survey of 1,500 workers employed at large employers (2,000 or more employees) was conducted by Fidelity Investments in March 2009. Workers in the survey are between the ages of 22 and 69 and are provided benefits through an employer-sponsored or union-sponsored health plan.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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