Employees Want to Improve Their Health and Want Employer Help, National Business Group on Health Survey Finds


Although employees want to improve their health, many are finding that the demands of work, personal life, and overall stress levels are making it difficult for them to achieve their health improvement goals, according to a new survey of more than 1,500 U.S. workers released today by the National Business Group on Health, a non-profit association of 300 large U.S. companies.

In its survey, the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) found that a vast majority of employees (88 percent) have taken steps to improve their health within the past year or have been regularly doing so for more than a year. However, nearly half of those surveyed (47 percent) say work demands are preventing them from leading a healthier life.

“U.S. employers should be encouraged to see that a large portion of workers want to improve their health and are getting involved in various health promotion programs,” said Helen Darling, President of the National Business Group on Health. “In fact, while some employees are taking action to improve their health for the first time this, many more have actually been involved in health related activities for more than one year.”


Health Related Activity Doing Regularly Started within For Over One Year Past Year —————– ————— Had health-related screening/exam 55% 23% Went for physical exam 54% 21% Tried to improve health through exercise, better nutrition 53% 35% Researched health condition 46% 28% Researched specific doctor 33% 24% Completed online health assessment 26% 22%


The survey reported that one out of four workers said they are more stressed today than they were two years ago. The three top stress factors cited are work and finances, both cited by 54 percent of respondents, and work/life balance cited by 43 percent. A third of respondents indicated they would take advantage of stress management programs if offered at work.

“Growing levels of stress among workers is clearly an issue employers will have to address, especially as employees becoming increasingly concerned about the current economic crisis. Employers will need to consider new programs and better utilize existing programs such as stress management courses, support groups, and referrals to mental health professionals to help employees reduce stress,” said Ms. Darling.

About three-fourths of respondents (74 percent) also stated that they are trying to adopt healthier lifestyles today with the hope their health care costs will be more manageable in the future while slightly more than one half (54 percent) are saving money to cover health care costs in the future.

“Employees are clearly faced with numerous hurdles to achieving their health goals,” said Ms. Darling. “Yet, with the ever rising cost of health care, they appear undaunted in their resolve to improve their health as a means of reducing future health costs.”

The Role of Employer Communications

The survey found that workers benefit from their employers’ health plan communication efforts. Half of all respondents say the health care benefit communications they receive from either their employer or health plan are very valuable or extremely valuable. More than four out of ten (43 percent) said they took action to improve their overall health based on these communications.

“Our survey amply demonstrates that employer health plan offerings and communications catalyze employee health improvement efforts,” stated Ms. Darling. “Employers can strengthen their impact on employee health efforts to reduce costs by identifying and addressing the real or perceived barriers to utilization of wellness and health improvement services, and continuing to drive the conversation about the importance of using health services effectively.”

About the Survey

The National Business Group on Health commissioned researchers at Fidelity Consulting Group to survey employees of large U.S. employers. A total of 1,502 employees participated in the study, which was conducted in July 2008. To participate, workers had to be full- or part-time employees working for an employer with a minimum of 2,000 employees, between the ages of 22 and 69, and insured through an employer-sponsored or union-sponsored health plan.

About the National Business Group on Health

The National Business Group on Health is the nation’s only non-profit, membership organization of large employers devoted exclusively to finding innovative and forward-thinking solutions to their most important health care and related benefits issues. The Business Group identifies and shares best practices in health benefits, disability, health and productivity, related paid time off and work/life balance issues. Business Group members provide health coverage for more than 50 million U.S. workers, retirees and their families. For more information about the Business Group, visit

Ed Emerman


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Rise in insurance costs dwarfs wage increases in Tenn.

Staff Writer
Health-care premiums for families rose at five times the growth in wages of Tennessee workers over the last seven years, a new report released Wednesday showed.

“This is a story of people paying more and more and receiving less,” said Ron Pollack, executive director with Families USA, the nonprofit group behind the report that advocates for health care for everyone.

The report showed median earnings of Tennessee workers rose 12.1 percent, to $25,639, between 2000 and 2007. Meanwhile, premiums for family health coverage offered through the workplace rose 61.9 percent, from $6,550 to $10,606.

With premiums, co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs rising, health costs are the fastest growing expense in U.S. households. For middle-income households, they now exceed 17 percent of disposable income, according to a separate tracking by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The recent economic downturn only worsens the situation at a time when the state plans new cuts in its health insurance program for the poor, advocates for the uninsured said. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Tony Garr, executive director for the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, citing new census data showing Tennessee bucked a nationwide decline in ranks of the uninsured.

Among findings in Families USA’s report, employers also saw a rise in their portion of annual premiums. Their contribution toward family coverage rose 58.2 percent to $7,679 and they paid 51.5 percent more toward individual health coverage.

“What that means is that workers are experiencing a triple whammy,” Pollack said in a conference call Wednesday. “Because employers’ portion are rising substantially, that has the impact of depressing wages, which also hurts the worker.”

Workers, meanwhile, saw their portion of annual premiums rise 72.5 percent to $2,927 for family coverage and 69.1 percent to $791 for individual coverage.

Jim Murrell, who runs a small business in Franklin, said that on average his two employees who receive health insurance benefits pay 7 percent of their wages while the company contributes another 7 percent toward those benefits.

That’s even after JMG Freight Group switched from a provider organization plan to a high-deductible health plan with a health savings as a way to reduce overall health insurance costs. Under that high-deductible plan, Murrell pays nearly $10,000 a year in premiums for a policy with a $5,000 deductible for coverage for his family. His family’s premiums would have been about $15,000 with a $2,000 family deductible under a traditional PPO plan, he said.

The Families USA report is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Roughly 16.1 percent of the state’s non-elderly population, about 841,000 people under age 65, is uninsured, according to census figures.

Benefits too small

Garr said that programs such as CoverTN that aim to improve access to insurance coverage haven’t proven as successful because they offer minimal benefits.

About 16,020 people are enrolled in the program for employees of small businesses, the self-employed and people whose employers don’t offer health insurance or are between jobs. Joe Burchfield, a CoverTN spokesman, cited recent enhancements to the program’s benefits, including additional coverage for doctor visits, as ways that the state is addressing the needs of the uninsured.


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Innovate to cut health costs

Universal healthcare may sound appealing, but deregulation and the free market would lead to better solutions.

By Shirley Svorny

October 6, 2008

We’ve been hearing a lot about universal healthcare. But before you give up on market competition, consider that government regulation of hospitals and medical professionals makes medical care much more expensive than it need be.

We seldom hear about difficulties in finding a doctor, rationing of services and poor-quality care under universal healthcare schemes — even though such problems are already happening in government-run programs in California. Individuals insured by state Medicaid programs have “insurance,” but because of low reimbursement rates, they are too often unable to find physicians and specialists who will care for them.

It’s even less often that we hear about another option, the only good option: Using innovation to make healthcare cheaper and more accessible.

When I say cheap healthcare, I don’t mean we should pay physicians less. I mean delivering high-quality care in less-expensive ways. Annual physicals don’t need to be done in a high-priced medical office, for example. And we need to oppose the move requiring audiologists to have doctorates. Patients should have low-cost options when it comes to getting a simple hearing test. Likewise, we need to repeal laws that require physician assistants, physical therapists and nurse practitioners to have master’s degrees.

One of the reasons healthcare costs are growing is that lobbyists for medical professionals and hospitals use such laws to protect their members from competition. If they keep blocking cost-saving innovations, it could backfire on them. The public will get so frustrated with the high cost of care that they will demand universal healthcare, which won’t be a picnic for the industry or the rest of us.

The success of retail clinics across the country gives us a glimpse of what innovation can do for patients. Those “convenience clinics” are popping up in CVS pharmacies, at Wal-Mart and Target. Wal-Mart’s new retail clinics will be “co-branded” with local hospitals. Staffed by nurse practitioners, convenience clinics provide routine care at affordable prices. (You don’t need an MD to diagnose pink eye or an ear infection.)

The innovations will keep on coming — but only if we let them. Advances in software and other diagnostic tools can dramatically improve medical diagnosis and treatment. They also will make medical care more affordable by allowing less-expensive, mid-level clinicians to diagnose and treat more illnesses.

The physician lobby fights those innovations, and many doctors argue that software will miss some diagnoses. Do they mean that they never miss anything? The experts disagree. “Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20% of the time,” writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. “Misdiagnosisis killing thousands of Americans every year.”

For all its faults, America’s healthcare sector has its advantages. It produces some of the highest survival rates in the world for cancer and other serious illnesses. Patients generally don’t have to wait a year for a hip replacement. Being 70 doesn’t make you ineligible for a kidney transplant. And U.S. medical innovations benefit other countries that suffer from the lack of them in their government-run schemes.

Rather than give up on all that, let’s deregulate medical care so that providers can find innovative ways to deliver high-quality care cheaply. Let’s eliminate the increasingly strict education requirements for clinicians and let medical professionals offer walk-in physicals or other services at competitive prices. Like Wal-Mart and MinuteClinic, they will rely on brand name and reputation to assure quality.

We also need to better promote health savings accounts, which put spending in the hands of consumers and encourage them to shop around for low-cost alternatives.

Retail clinics are only the first step. My hope is that the increased access and reduced costs will quickly become evident and will build support for additional innovations — and the deregulatory policies necessary to make them possible.

Universal coverage sounds appealing, but it means government will be running the trains. Here and abroad, government does not have a good record when it comes to access, oversight or innovation.

Before we give up on free markets, let’s actually give them a shot.

Shirley Svorny is a professor of economics at Cal State Northridge and the author of a new Cato Institute study on medical licensing.


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