Time to beef up that wellness program and up your communications about your health benefit programs and your EAP? That might just be a good idea, according to the results of a recent survey, which found that employee health care choices and behaviors are being affected by the tough economic climate.
Last month, the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) – an organization which represents 300 large employers that provide health care benefits to a combined 55 million workers, dependents, and retirees – reported the results of a survey conducted with 1500 employees between the ages of 22 and 69. The purpose of the survey was “to ascertain how the recession is affecting American workers (PDF) and to provide a snapshot about those areas where businesses should work more closely with their employees to help support them during a very challenging environment.”
Among the findings:

  • More than one-in-four respondents – 27 percent – report forgoing health care treatment to save money on copayments or coinsurance costs
  • One in five respondents – 20 percent – skipped taking their prescription drug medication dosage as prescribed by their doctor; 17 percent split a prescription drug dosage in half to make it last longer
  • Many workers, particularly older workers (44 percent of those aged 45-64), report that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.

In addition, nearly three out of four employees said they have become more aware of the total cost of healthcare, more than half have become more aware of what they pay for insurance, and about one in four changed health plans as a result of this cost awareness. About two-thirds of all employees whose employer offers financial incentives indicate that it has motivated them to try to lead a healthier life.
NBGH sees the results of this survey as an opportunity for employers to help their workers cope and thrive. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Use benefit statements to clearly articulate a commitment to wellness
  • Consider offering financial incentives to motivate health behavior changes
  • Emphasize that managing healthcare costs is not the same as foregoing necessary medical care and prescriptions
  • Reinforce that exercise is the best way to control costs, improve physical health, and reduce stress
  • Communicate aggressively about availability of financial counseling and mental health services available through stand-alone programs and Employee Assistance Programs(EAPs)
  • Help employees understand the link between mental health and the impact on future physical health
  • Ask your vendors to screen for depression and other stress-related health problems and behaviors
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