U.S. Employees Are Unhappy With Health Care Insurance

July 8, 2005
Towers Perrin survey shows dissatisfaction with health care insurance is foiling corporate cost-cutting efforts.

The majority of employees of U.S. firms are clearly unhappy with their healthcare insurance and with the healthcare they receive, according to a new study. Additionally, when given choices for healthcare insurance, those employees tend to base decisions on fear and insecurity instead of what may be most effective and in their best interest. The upshot is that this combination of fear and insecurity is offsetting employers' efforts to reduce the costs of providing health care coverage.

The human resources and reinsurance consulting firm Towers Perrin, surveyed 1,400 employees at large and mid-size organizations in the U.S., and found that 52% of the respondents said they harbor ill feelings toward their current health care insurance plans. Additionally, more than 60% expressed negative feelings about their experiences in receiving care at clinics and hospitals, according to the survey. Towers Perrin released a report on its survey in mid-June.

Decisions on health care "are fueled by emotion to a far greater extent than by rational evaluation and decision making," the report says. Specifically, employees facing choices on health care worry that their current health plan does not provide adequate financial protection, cover the services they need or may need, or deliver enough value for the cost.

Dave Guilmette, managing director for Towers Perrin and leader of the firm's human resource services consulting practice, says people are afraid that their health care insurance will not protect them against financial hardship in the event of unforeseen medical needs. Guilmette is quoted in a news release that the firm issued. "They also have serious concerns about navigating the provider system: not finding the right doctor, not knowing which tests to take, what treatments are best or which hospitals would provide the best care. "Fear causes people to want to spend more than they need to," Guilmette says.

"People tend to think that by paying more for coverage, they will receive better value. They assume that more care is better care and that higher-priced providers are better. They are conscious of the risk of lack of care but not the risk of unnecessary care. And they tend to over-insure to minimize the risk of unbudgetable out-of-pocket cost, he adds. "In reality, however, health care quality does not correlate directly with cost, and most company-sponsored health plans provide ample financial protection when viewed over the span of a year," he says. From the employer standpoint, Guilmette says this mentality "runs counter to employer efforts to control costs."

To reduce costs, Guilmette says, "employers must find new ways to help employees understand their coverage alternatives and gain confidence in navigating the system."

The report says that more than half of the employees surveyed are willing to pay for some of their health care insurance if that investment helps to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for health care.

"Companies want employees to choose coverage carefully and use it appropriately. They want employees to understand care options, choose correct treatment and, most important, to live healthy lifestyles," says Martha Terry, a principal at Towers Perrin. Terry also is quoted in the firm's news release. "Employees, on the other hand, want security, value and quality and they want to feel confident in their choices. "Our study shows this confidence comes in part from believing their employer has a genuine concern for their health and demonstrates that concern through supportive programs and actions," Terry adds.

This new survey is part of a multiyear, multidimensional study being done by Towers Perrin on the factors that affect employee behavior in health care decision making and how employers can influence behavior as a way to reduce costs, enhance the work experience and increase workforce productivity and engagement. This survey combined a traditional questionnaire with a technique most commonly used for marketing and product research. The survey asked participants about four aspects of health-related experience: their health care coverage, their care, their overall health and, specifically, their employer support for good health.

The report on the survey and additional information is available at the Towers Perrin web site at www.towersperrin.com/hrservices.

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