Employer Involvement in Employee Health? Employees Say Butt Out

April 3, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The number of employers who plan to get more involved in managing the health of employees has jumped, but employees say it's not their place.

Hewitt Associates said in a press release that its survey of more than 500 U.S. companies revealed that keeping employees healthy was one of their top business and workforce issues this year. The survey found that 88% plan to make investments in longer-term solutions aimed at improving the health and productivity of their workforce over the next three to five years – up from 63% last year.

However, a separate Hewitt survey of 30,000 employees found that while almost three-quarters (74%) think employers are responsible for helping them understand how to use their health plan, just 12% said they believe companies have a role in helping them understand how to stay healthy.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of employers indicated they plan to offer incentives to motivate sustained health care behavior change, and 67% said they will utilize health care data and measurements to drive their organization’s health care strategy. Seventy percent of employees support lower premiums for practicing healthy behaviors, such as maintaining one’s weight or exercising regularly.

Almost all (99%) employees agreed it is important to know personal risks to take steps for prevention or treatment of health issues and are willing to share information on a confidential basis to learn more, and eight out of ten said they took a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) when given the opportunity. However, for those employees that claim they take an HRQ, 40% did not take any actions based on specific recommendations provided afterward.

Cost is a top concern for the majority of companies, with 82% indicating they are focusing on cost mitigation in 2008, but the traditional strategies that companies have used in the past to help lower costs – such as cost shifting to employees or consumer-driven health care – have stalled. According to Hewitt’s research, while 64% of companies say cost shifting to employees is currently a part of their primary health care strategy, just 17% plan to make it a priority over the next three to five years. Just 20% currently offer a health reimbursement account and/or health savings account, and less than 6% plan to adopt one in the coming year.

Cost also plays a role in influencing employee health behaviors, Hewitt found. Nearly one-third (30%) of those surveyed said they did not go to the doctor when they were sick because of cost, and 27% admitted not filling a prescription given by a doctor. Almost one in five (19%) also said they stopped taking medications before their prescription ran out – 18% of whom cited financial reasons for doing so.

Almost all (95%) employees indicated they believe that taking care of their health will save on future health care costs, and 96% agreed that catching health problems at an early stage or preventing them before they happen can save them money. However, while 88% claimed they engage in healthy behaviors, less than one-half said they eat right or exercise regularly (47% and 40%, respectively), and only four out of ten (40%) said they do a good job at asking for advice on how to stay healthy.