Some Employer Health Strategies Are Helping Workers Improve Their Health

Most workers know what it takes to get and stay healthy, but they do not have accurate perceptions of their health and their health care programs, according to a recent survey from Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health, and The Futures Company. However some employer strategies—such as the use of account-based plans and specific health and wellness programs—appear to be effective in motivating employees to take action to better understand and improve their health.

According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey, the majority of consumers (87 percent) say their health is good, and less than one quarter (23 percent) say they are overweight or obese. Yet, more than half (53 percent) of those consumers who report being in good health actually report height and weight that categorize them in the body mass index (BMI) overweight or obese categories.

“Employees want to be healthy, but many have an overly rosy perception of their health and may not see an urgent need to take action,” said Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt. “For others, the activities and stresses of daily life take priority over good health, and many consumers are unwilling to make sacrifices to improve their health. Employers can help workers and their families by first arming them with the necessary tools and resources that give them a realistic picture of their health, and then making it easy and convenient for them to make better decisions and participate in the right wellness programs.”

Not only are employees disconnected when it comes to their personal health, but they are equally misinformed when it comes to understanding what the employer pays for their health care. According to a recent Aon Hewitt analysis, total health care costs per employee were $10,522 in 2012, and employers’ share of that cost was $8,318. However, when asked how much of the bill their employer pays, The Consumer Health Mindset survey shows consumers significantly underestimate the portion paid by their employers, guessing approximately half of the cost.

“These survey results underscore the challenges employers face as they seek to engage employees and their families in health improvement as a means to better managing rising health care costs,” said Helen Darling, president and chief executive officer at the National Business Group on Health. “It is critical for employers to bridge the knowledge gap evident in this survey.”

CDHPs

An increasing number of employers offer consumer driven health plans (CDHPs), as a way for consumers to take more responsibility for managing their health and related costs. According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey, 78 percent of employees currently enrolled in CDHPs are satisfied with the plans, and 89 percent expected to re-enroll in this option for 2013. For workers who have been enrolled in an account-based plan for two or more years, almost all (97 percent) planned to re-enroll.

“Account-based ‘consumer’ plans continue to rise in popularity with employers, in part, because they require workers to take a more active role in managing their use of the health care system,” said Jim Winkler, health innovation leader at Aon Hewitt. “Armed with the right tools and resources, workers who enroll in these types of plans can clearly see what health services cost, and they can use this information to be better informed consumers when it comes to choosing the care they need and spending their health care dollars. In many cases, this enlightened perspective can lead to cost savings for both the employer and the consumer.”

The survey found that consumer involvement in CDHPs may correlate to positive health behaviors. Sixty percent of employees who are enrolled in these types of plans say they have made positive behavior changes related to their health. Specifically, 28 percent say they receive routine preventative care more often, 23 percent seek lower-cost health care options, and 19 percent research health costs more frequently.

Wellness Programs

When asked if they would participate in a wellness program, the survey found that up to half of consumers said they would participate with no financial incentive as long as it is easy and convenient to participate. Sixty-three percent of consumers said they would complete a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) for a monetary reward, and 62 percent would participate in a healthy eating or weight management programs. Almost half (48 percent) would participate in a medically-sponsored program to help them manage a health condition.

To help consumers achieve their health-related goals, employers are willing to offer incentives for actions that take more work. Over one-half (58 percent) of employers surveyed offered some form of incentive for completing a lifestyle modification program (for example, to quit smoking or lose weight). Additionally, about one-quarter of organizations report offering incentives (monetary or nonmonetary) for making progress toward meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, BMI, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey findings, HRQs also are a valuable way to help consumers get an accurate picture of their overall health and receive targeted feedback to help them improve their well being. Of the workers who were offered an HRQ and received suggested action steps based on their results, 86 percent took some action. Further, 65 percent reported that they made at least one lifestyle improvement as a result.

“Consumers are looking for solutions that address their specific health needs and concerns,” said Christine Baskin, senior vice president at The Futures Company. “Tailored, targeted feedback such as that given in the HRQ process, along with understanding individual consumer’s attitudes towards health, are essential ingredients to having employees take actions to improve their health and their lifestyle.”

The survey contains responses from more than 2,800 employees. For more information, visit http://www.aon.com.

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