Study: Workers Will Continue to Rely on Employer-Sponsored Wellness

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media , May 25, 2010

Although recently-passed healthcare reform legislation will open new options for many Americans to purchase insurance through exchanges, employer-provided insurance will likely remain the most common source of coverage, suggests a survey of more than 3,000 employees conducted by the National Business Group on Health and Hewitt Associates.

The majority of workers surveyed, roughly 61%, currently rely on their employers for health insurance coverage, and about 47% plan to stick with their employer coverage in the next three to five years, the survey found. About three-quarters of the respondents were employees and roughly one-quarter received coverage as dependents.

Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would consider dropping their employer-provided health insurance if they become eligible to purchase similar plans for a lower cost. However, because the question was asked before reform was passed and most respondents were highly-concerned with the cost of coverage, it is difficult to predict how many would actually switch plans, says Cathy Tripp, principal in Hewitt's Health Management practice.

That leaves employers with the burden of providing coverage and managing wellness activities for the foreseeable future.

Many employers have implemented wellness programs in an attempt to control costs, but they have often struggled to see results. That may be because of a sharp disconnect between employees opinions and actions, the survey suggests.

Although a vast majority of the employees said smart health choices and preventive care are essential to improving health, many admitted to failing to follow suggestions regarding exercise, screenings, and other health advice.

Information seems to be the biggest obstacle for most workers. Fifty-eight percent said they weren't sure which information they could trust, 54% said the information they received was confusing, and 47% claimed they didn't know much about healthcare costs. Employers are in a unique position to close that information gap by educating their employees about health issues, says Joann Hall Swenson with Hewitt Associates. Respondents were highly in favor of personalized information, and employers will likely have more success with programs if they tailor them as much as possible to individual workers, she says.

In fact, it isn't lack of interest that is holding many workers back. Respondents were more likely to cite internal motivators than financial incentives as reasons for participating in wellness programs. For instance, 48% said they would complete a healthcare questionnaire because it was "the right thing to do," and only about 28% said they would complete it because of financial incentives or penalties.

Employers may be spending unnecessary money on incentive programs that many employees would participate in if only they had better information and resources.

"Employers don't have to pay people to do everything. It may be better to just pay for the things that are harder to do," says Swenson.

Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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