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Survey Sees Disconnect On Health-Care 'Consumerism'

A widening gap between employer and employee views on health care threatens to undermine employer efforts to use consumer-driven health-care to slow the growth of health-care costs, according to a new survey from Towers Perrin, a New York based consultancy. The "2004 Towers Perrin Health Care Consumerism Survey: Aligning Employer and Employee Interests" shows that most U.S. employers are using health-care strategies that rely on employees to be better health-care consumers. At the same time, however, efforts to control company health-care costs have fueled growing employee resistance and have compromised the perceived value of health-care benefits in many organizations. The research, which involved a survey of more than 1,000 employees of midsize and large U.S. companies and a companion survey of executives and managers at more than 120 major U.S. companies, focused on how employers are responding to continuing health-care cost pressures and how employees, in turn, are responding to current employer initiatives. "The clear trend among employers is to try to enlist employees as allies in the effort to control health-care cost growth by educating them about the problem and encouraging them to be more thoughtful consumers of health care through changes in plan design and related initiatives," says Jim Foreman, managing director of Health and Welfare for Towers Perrin's HR Services business. "Our survey suggests that many employees just aren't buying it, in part because they've been largely shielded from the true cost of health care during the managed-care era and view rising costs as the company's problem. What comes through loud and clear in our survey is that, for employees, health care is all about me." For employers, the continuing double-digit growth in health-care costs has created a growing conflict between key business and talent-management goals. Over three-quarters (79%) of the survey's employer respondents said their senior leadership believes that offering competitive health benefits is critical to meeting their key talent-management goals, both now and in the future.

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