Participants Give Pension Plans Mixed Reviews, Health Care Thumbs Down

October 21, 2003 ( - Nearly seven out of 10 (67%) employees are not impressed with the progress of their health-care benefits, ranking them somewhat or much worse than they were only three years ago, while participant reactions about their pension plan remain mixed.

Adding to the low marks given to health care is the pessimistic outlook most employees have about their future health-care benefits; 74% think their health benefits will be somewhat or much worse three years from now than they are at the moment, according to BusinessWeek Online’s October 7 Reader Survey.

The major reason for the dissatisfaction with health care at their employer is the rising cost, to which the 650 respondents blame a cornucopia of factors on:

  • excessive drug prices
  • aging population
  • ineffective hospital cost-management
  • excessive doctor fees
  • lack of federal pressure to keep health costs under control
  • excessive health-care use by patients.

Overall though, excessive use seems to have only a minor impact. Asked how often over the past five years they or members of their family have made doctor or hospital visits that were not absolutely necessary – a factor employers typically blame for rising costs – less than 5% of respondents said they make such visits somewhat or very often. More than 82% said they do so rarely or never.

Pension Points

Putting it up to the health-care light, employee retirement plan satisfaction looks like the fair-haired child. Only 44% of participants polled say their retirement plan is somewhat or much worse than it was three years ago. Comparatively, four out of 10 think it is about the same or better and 84% think that three years from now the amount they will have for retirement will be about the same or higher.

Higher levels of satisfaction with the company retirement plan versus the health-care option at least in part could be traced back to some readers that get a particularly good deal under their company plans. Nearly two out of 10 (18%) say they do not have to contribute anything to them, and 12% say they contribute less than 5% of their gross income, versus the 35% who contribute 5% to 10% and the 24% who contribute 11% to 15%.

This apparent level of satisfaction with their retirement plans, though, does not translate into a secure feeling for the future. More than half (57%) think the amount of income their pension will provide will be somewhat less than adequate, or inadequate, compared with only the 33% who expect to have adequate income. Thus, to make up for the perceived gap, the majority (50%) plan to work either part time, or full time at a different job when they reach retirement. By comparison, only 24% have plans to quit working altogether and 12% do not plan on retiring.

Asked to point the finger at the biggest factor for their lack of a retirement nest egg, respondents primarily blame the economy (32%) and the markets (28%). However, also grouped into the fault-bearing segment were employers (16%) for moving out of plans that provide guaranteed benefits and into 401(k) plans that shift the risk companies formerly assumed onto employees. Some also blame federal law (13%), for making it too easy for companies to change plans, plus themselves (9%) – for investing their pension money too conservatively.