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New Survey Reveals Employer Health Strategies That Are Helping Workers Improve Their Health And Wellness

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill., Jan. 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 new 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.  

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For the second straight year, Aon Hewitt, the global human resources solutions business of Aon plc (NYSE: AON), the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company surveyed more than 2,800 employees and their dependents covered by employer health plans to determine their perspectives, behaviors and attitudes towards health and wellness. According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey, an overwhelming 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,[1] 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 CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "It is critical for employers to bridge the knowledge gap evident in this survey."

Using Account-Based Health Plans to Motivate Behavior Change

An increasing number of employers offer account-based plans, commonly known as consumer driven health plans, as a way for consumers to take more responsibility for managing their health and related costs. According to The Consumer Health Mindset survey findings, 78 percent of employees currently enrolled in account-based plans are satisfied with the plans and 89 percent expect 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) plan 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 indicates that consumer involvement in account-based plans 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.

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