Employees Want More Information for Health Coverage Decisions

September 19, 2013 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A recent survey by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies (TCHS) found people are in need of more information to help them make decisions about health care coverage.

The First Annual Transamerica Center for Health Studies Survey: Benchmark on Health Care Coverage Perceptions and Readiness found many employees and employers do not have the information they need to navigate the personal and financial implications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Only 13% of employees and 25% of employers feel very informed about the ACA.

Information employees indicated they need to feel better informed about their health care coverage options include:

  • A description of the available benefits;
  • A comparison of how the cost of health insurance may change; and
  • A comparison of coverage among the available plans.

When asked what they provided to employees, only 12% of employers reported providing all three pieces of information. About half of employers provide a description of benefits, 30% provide a comparison of coverage options, and 24% provide a comparison of cost.

Other survey findings included:

  • Employers and employees face directly conflicting interests regarding health insurance coverage: Employers prioritize lower costs over higher quality, while employees prioritize higher quality over lower cost. Sixty-two percent of employees said, “I would prefer to pay more for a higher quality insurance option.” Fifty-seven percent of employers said, “My company would prefer to reduce insurance costs even if it means a lower quality health insurance option.”
  • More employees express interest in receiving one-on-one counseling and detailed comparisons about health care benefit options than employers who currently offer these items. Online tools and benefits advisers are seen as the most helpful channels for seeking health coverage-related information by employees, yet are less likely to be offered by employers.
  • Small businesses (with one to 49 employees) are the least likely to offer health care benefits to employees, make changes to their benefits offerings, or engage employees with education or advice about health benefits. Nearly 50% of small businesses do not offer health care benefits to any employees; 82% of small businesses have not made changes to their benefits offerings in the past year; and 43% have never proactively engaged their employees in education or advice about the health care benefits offered. Small businesses are also more likely than medium or large companies to prefer reducing insurance costs even if it means a lower quality health coverage option.
  • The majorities of employees and employers indicate they are prepared to make health coverage decisions related to the ACA, but many have not taken any action to prepare. Sixty-seven percent of workers felt they were prepared to make decisions about their health coverage by January 2014, but 57% also said they had done nothing in the past 12 months to prepare for the ACA.
  • Employers and employees share common interests in wellness programs. Eighty-three percent of employers strongly or somewhat agree that implementing health/wellness and disease management programs lead to better control of health care costs. And 34% of employees identified discounts for wellness services as elements missing from their health care options. Older people value this option less than their younger counterparts.

Other findings (cont.):

  • Seventy-six percent of employers are not considering reducing their workforce or moving employees to part-time status in response to the ACA; 17% said they are considering replacing full-time workers with part-time or contract workers; and 13% said they are researching reductions in employees or full-time employees.
  • Of the 43% of the general population who do not receive insurance through an employer, only 8% plan on paying the fine rather than purchasing insurance. While nearly four in 10 people are not sure how they will obtain coverage, a very slim number plan to forgo insurance all together.

“With the health care coverage landscape on the verge of a wholesale shift, now is the time for workers and employers to begin to be fully align on what workers need to make informed decisions relating to their health care coverage,” said Hector De La Torre, executive director of the TCHS, said. “Hopefully this data—and the tools and resources we develop as a result of it—can help this happen so workers can be not only knowledgeable, but ultimately adequately covered and more financially secure as a result of that coverage.”

The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive, on behalf of TCHS, and examined a nationally representative sample of 2,505 of the U.S. general population, including 1,704 employees who work full-time, part-time or self-employed, and 758 employers.

The Transamerica Center for Health Studies is a division of the Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit, private foundation, as well as a sister organization to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. The goals of the TCHS are to identify, research and analyze the most relevant health care issues facing the public today.

More information about the survey can be found here.