Wellness Efforts Often not Meeting Employee Needs

November 21, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new survey from Aon Hewitt, The Futures Company and the National Business Group on Health, reveals consumers want their employers to do more to help them improve their health and get the most from their employer-provided health and wellness plans.

Under continued pressure to mitigate costs and adjust to new regulations, employers are continuing to carefully consider the future of their employer-provided health plans. However, as they adjust their plan design and wellness strategies, the survey finds many employers aren’t aligning these strategies with the goals, needs and concerns of their employees.  

While a majority of consumers (74%) are worried about being able to afford health care now and in the future, they understand that health improvement programs, along with well designed employer-provided health benefit plans, can help them get healthier while also holding down costs. But, the survey reveals workers really want programs and communication that are easy to use, motivating and meaningful to them, but that also provide personalized information and ideas.  

Consumers are willing to try consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) if the immediate cost savings are apparent. Among those with a choice, most employees (63%) select a CDHP because of the lower premium costs. Additionally, 39% choose this plan option because their employer contributes to an associated account—Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA). Among those enrolled in a CDHP who have a choice, over 90% will definitely or probably re-enroll.   

While CDHPs are, in part, intended to encourage workers to take a more active role in their health, the survey findings indicate that they are having a mixed affect on behaviors. Encouragingly, 42% are getting more preventive care, and 40% are looking for lower cost health services options since choosing this plan. However, a sizeable number of workers (35%) are sacrificing or postponing care (28%) to avoid out-of-pocket costs.  

When it comes to tools to help them make health decisions, consumers want information that is tailored to their specific situation. Half of participants (50%) want a personalized plan that recommends specific actions they can take to improve their health based on their health status, up 9 percentage points from 2010. Workers are also looking for convenient, one-stop access to information, with 40% expressing a preference for a wellness website, and more than a third (35%) wanting personalized health tips and reminders. Cost is still not far from the minds of consumers though; 44% would like cost savings tips, and a third (33%) want cost estimating tools.  

According to consumers, the best way to motivate them to participate in employer-sponsored health plans is by using rewards. More than half of consumers would prefer either non-cash or cash incentives to encourage them to take part in wellness (60%), condition management programs (50%) or respond to a health risk questionnaire (58%).

For employers, getting workers engaged in their health is critical to health improvement and cost containment. However, the survey finds there is a disconnect between how healthy people think they are and how healthy they actually are. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately one-third (33.8%) of U.S. adults are obese, though only 24% of survey participants say they are obese. Similarly, the survey found more than three-quarters (76%) of consumers rated their health as "very good" or "good," while just 15% considered their health "fair" or "poor." While employees may think they're healthier than they likely are, they do acknowledge their health isn't perfect. Approximately 60% of consumers report having at least one health condition with obesity, high blood pressure and back pain most often mentioned.  

Despite the potential disconnect between real and perceived health status, consumers do understand what it takes to get and stay healthy. When ranking what matters most to their health, many (85%) say good health is a result of making smart health choices each day, over two-thirds (68%) say getting regular preventive care ranks in the top three, while 40% rank living and working in a healthy environment in the top three.   

While people know what it takes to be healthy, there are still often barriers to reaching health goals. Most people cite lack of time (42%), cost (40%) and unwillingness to sacrifice (35%) as the leading obstacles to getting and staying healthy. Consumers do acknowledge there are people and things in their lives that may help move the needle when it comes to improving their health. Nearly three-quarters (72%) are influenced by advice from a doctor, almost half (47%) from friends or family and 41% from general health websites. Just 13% consider health information from their employer a trusted source.  

 To improve health and productivity, employers are increasingly offering programs to both workers and their dependents such as biometric screenings, health risk assessments, onsite clinics/pharmacies and Employee Assistance Programs. However, many employees and their dependents don't seem to be aware of many of these programs. In 2011, more than one-third (36%) of consumers did not participate in any health program or service offered by their employer. Among the programs workers did participate in, blood tests or biometric screenings were the most popular (61% participation), followed by health risk assessments (57%).  

When workers do take part in these programs, satisfaction is extremely high. Almost all (97%) of consumers who took part in blood work/biometric screening were satisfied, 97% were happy with their on-site clinic or pharmacy, and 92% were satisfied with the health risk assessment.  

Many consumers don't feel their employers are fully supportive in helping them get and stay healthy. A majority of workers (60%) think their company is only moderately-to-not supportive when it comes to their efforts to be healthy.  

Together with the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, Aon Hewitt surveyed more than 3,000 consumers (employees and their dependents) covered by employer health plans to determine their perspectives, behaviors and attitudes towards health and wellness.