More and more employers are offering high-deductible health
plans, but research suggests some employees lack the knowledge needed to
understand their benefits and take full advantage of them.
Even though the number of employers offering high-deductible
health plans (HDHP) seems to be on the rise, three out of five employers don’t
offer a health savings account (HSA) alongside these benefits, according to
research by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. The company adds
that “this is especially true of businesses with fewer than 50 employees—a
segment that accounts for nearly 30% of all working Americans.”
The study also suggests that employees with HDHPs require “more
support and education in the workplace to understand their options and to
mitigate longer-term health risks.”
A health savings account (HSA) offered in conjunction with
an HDHP enables employees to set aside pre-tax dollars to cover out-of-pocket
medical expenses. This is important to note considering the rising costs of health care and research that indicates employees
have trouble understanding their employer-sponsored benefits.
Employers may also contribute to their employees’ HSA to
provide a base level of funding. However, Guardian’s study notes that even when
employees have access to HSAs, many are unsure of how they work or how to fully
According to Guardian, three in five workers are unable
to pay a $3,000 out-of-pocket medical expense. Faced with such an expense, the
study found, 37% would have to make a
deal with the provider to pay over time, 34% would have to put the bill on a credit card, 9% would ask for a loan from friends/family,
and 6% would take a bank loan.
In light of rising out-of-pocket costs, several employees
reported that they did one of the following in the past year: skipped a doctor visit, delayed a recommended procedure or surgery,
failed to fill a prescription,
or avoided a blood test or X-rays.
“The study reveals a correlation between high out-of-pocket
medical costs and delaying or ignoring medical care,” says Dave Mahder, vice president and chief marketing officer of group and worksite markets at Guardian Life. “HDHPs
help employers rein in medical costs, but potentially at the risk of higher
catastrophic medical and disability claims in the long term. Employers offering
HDHPs can help employees fund out-of-pocket expenses through health savings accounts and supplemental health benefits, but there’s still room for
These findings are from Guardian’s “A Crack in the Foundation,” the first set of
findings from the fourth annual Guardian Workplace Benefits Study. The full report can be
found online here.