Consumers, facing worries over being able to afford adequate health care, want their employers to do more to help them improve their health and get the most from their employer-provided health and wellness plans, according to a new survey.

Risk management insurance and human resources services provider Aon Hewitt, joined the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company to survey more than 3,000 consumers (employees and their dependents) covered by employer health plans to determine their perspectives, behaviors and attitudes toward health and wellness.

Meanwhile employers are under continued pressure to mitigate costs and adjust to heath care regulations, causing them to place more attention on employer-provided health plan strategies. The survey finds, however, that many employers aren't aligning these strategies with the goals, needs and concerns of their employees.

A full 74% of those surveyed said they have concerns about being able to afford health care now and in the future. Those same respondents reported that they understand that health improvement programs and employer-provided health benefit plans can help them get healthier while also holding down costs.

The survey reveals that workers desire four things — programs and communication that are easy to use, motivating and meaningful to them, but that also provide personalized information and ideas.

"Employers continue to face countless challenges when it comes to offering health plans that effectively meet the needs of workers and their families, while also managing rising costs," says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "We hear over and over that the key to ensuring real health improvement is employee engagement, so knowing what employees want and what will motivate them is essential to success. Consumers are telling us that the one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness isn't working for them. In order to help with their challenges and reduce costs, they want health programs that speak to their individual and families' health care needs."

Employers seem to understand the importance of having fit employees. Another recent Aon Hewitt report shows that 51% of employers now offer a Consumer Driven Health Plan, up from just 9% in 2005.

Aon Hewitt notes that consumers are willing to try 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 or a Health Reimbursement Account. However, a sizeable number of workers (35%) reported that they are foregoing or postponing care (28%) to avoid out-of-pocket costs.

Half of the survey participants note the desire for 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%) want personalized health tips and reminders. Cost is still not far from the minds of consumers though. Fully 44% would like cost savings tips and a third (33%) want cost estimating tools.

In addition to shifting a greater share of the cost to employees, companies are also looking at ways to get employees and their dependents healthier. 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%), notes Aon Hewitt.

Pat Speer writes for Insurance Networking News, a SourceMedia publication.

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