Employers Promote Healthcare Consumerism

May 1, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employees are turning to healthcare consumerism in an effort to convince employees to chip in more to rapidly rising healthcare prices.

While the vast majority (87%) of employees agree healthcare costs are outpacing inflation and 63% agree that these costs have an impact on employer profits, less than half (46%) believe employers are unable to absorb the increase. Therefore, many US companies are shifting more responsibility and accountability for healthcare costs to employees and in doing so are considering health plan designs that encourage employees to become more effective healthcare consumers, according to the Towers Perrin survey Keeping Employees Engaged About Health Care.

“Health care consumerism is a shared employer-employee responsibility,” explained Jim Foreman managing director of Health and Welfare for Towers Perrin.   “Employers provide employees with the tools they need to become better consumers.   Employees, in turn, agree to share in the costs and make informed decisions about lifestyle and healthcare choices.”

However, Foreman is quick to point out that consumerism should not be confused with a consumer driven plan.   “Consumer-driven health plans are simply one element of a consumerism strategy.   These plans bundle accountability and support by providing a health care reimbursement account and catastrophic coverage.”

Differences of Opinion

Not surprisingly, age and health status also is significant in employee perception on healthcare consumerism.   Only 28% of younger workers (under 35) polled thought it was fair for employers to ask them to absorb some of the annual increases in health care costs, compared to more than 50% of older workers (35+ years).   Further, only 44% of younger employees believed that increasing health care costs have an impact on an employer’s bottom line, compared to more than 70% of older workers.

Following along the same lines, employees who consider themselves to be in poor health are far more receptive to receiving expert guidance and following suggestions from health experts regarding care than others who consider themselves to be in good health.   Over three quarters (76%) of those employees who describe themselves in good health say they already have access to the information required to be an effective healthcare consumer, compared to 61% of those in poor health feeling the same.   Conversely, those in poor health are more receptive to follow suggestion and guidance from health plan experts regarding care (76%) than their healthy peers (64%).

Communication Key

“Rather than just communicating information about health care costs to employees, companies must be more visible in how they actively manage the experience that employees and their families receive,” said Mark Schumann, the leader of Towers Perrin’s Communication practice.

The survey shows that the most helpful employer-provided communications are those tied to health-related Web sites (73%) and medical hot lines (62%) not under the employer’s control. Other sources of information were listed as:

  • Informative books and brochures (56%)
  • Targeted communications on medical conditions (45%)
  • Newsletters on health issues (35%)
  • Employee meetings (14%)
  • Employee and spouse meetings (12%)

Interestingly, those employees who describe themselves in poor health overwhelmingly (81%) would find targeted communications on medical conditions the most helpful source of information in making effective healthcare decisions.   These results “foretells a future of company partnerships with best-in-class information providers to relay messages and keep employees engaged,” Schumann added.