gmtoday_small.gif

 


Gail MarksJarvis: Many workers would trade raises for continued health coverage

March 28, 2016


If you had to choose between getting a raise and giving it up so you could keep the health coverage you rely on at work, which would you take?

Almost half of workers would skip the raise if it meant they could count on their health coverage, a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found. Attitudes are clearly mixed, with workers also eager to get a bump in pay after a long period of stagnant income.

Age makes a difference in outlook, noted Paul Fronstin, EBRI health care analyst. Millennials, during and after the recession, started their work lives with unusually low-paying jobs. With high rents and huge student loan burdens, many are eager for more pay. Older workers with families to support, and often higher health care costs than younger workers, tend to favor the health care benefits, Fronstin said.

The percentage of people saying they would rather have fewer health benefits and higher wages has doubled since 2012 — increasing from 10 percent to 20 percent of workers. About 29 percent of people said they would like a less costly plan than they are being offered by their employer.

Most people are satisfied with their health care coverage through work, although the level of satisfaction has been slipping. Since 2012, those satisfied has dropped from 74 percent to 66 percent.

EBRI has been surveying health care satisfaction since 2001 and started digging into additional attitudes when passage of the Affordable Care Act led to speculation that some employers would stop providing health insurance and let employees fend for themselves on the new exchanges that sell health insurance. But Fronstin said few employers are dropping health coverage.

"Companies offer health plans to compete for employees," Fronstin said.. In one EBRI study, 22 percent of people said they’ve accepted, quit or changed jobs based on employee benefits. About 75 percent of employees ranked health insurance as extremely important to them. It significantly outranks the second-most popular benefit, retirement savings plans — or 401(k)s — ranked as extremely important by 36 percent of people.

Yet the cost of providing health insurance in the workplace has been rising for both employers and employees. The Kaiser Family Foundation found in 2015 that the cost of premiums has been rising about 4 percent a year — a larger increase than the typical family is getting in pay. Individuals paid on average $1,071 in premiums last year, and families paid $4,955 — their portion of the total $17,545 premium. The total annual premium for single coverage is $6,251.

Deductibles are rising at a shocking pace. People are being required to take on more of their health care costs before the insurance company steps in to cover the rest. Deductibles paid by workers have climbed 67 percent since 2010 — about seven times the rise in workers’ wages, according to Kaiser. The average deductible for an individual is $1,318.

Fronstin anticipates that employers will deal with costs and the variety of desires in the workplace in the future by adding more choices to health plans. He likens it to the Affordable Care Act exchanges, where people now shop for plans with various benefit levels.

In the study by EBRI, people said they wanted more choices. Eight in 10 said having choices was "extremely important" to them. Yet, they also like the comfort of having their employer or union make the basic choices for their workplace plans. They aren’t as pleased with the choices they are being offered now, compared with the past. And they aren’t as sure as they were that they will be able to count on their employer to keep offering the health plans they like, at the price they want to pay.

But only 11 percent are extremely confident they would be able to do the comparison shopping necessary if they had to go into the marketplace to choose health plans on their own. They question whether a rating system would help them choose the best health insurance.

Currently about half of workers prefer to continue to get coverage the way they are getting it now from their employer. They want their employer to keep shopping for the plans and delivering them to workers at the same price as today. But 16 percent would like to do their own shopping. Nearly a fifth would prefer that their employer give them money and allow workers to decide whether to purchase coverage at all, or how much to spend.

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services