- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Most workers employed at large businesses consider their health plan to be the most important part of the their benefit packages and have little interest in purchasing coverage on their own, according to a survey released yesterday by the National Business Group on Health.

The nonprofit organization representing the perspective of large employers on health care issues, conducted the survey of workers in February. The survey only contacted workers at companies with at least 2,500 employees.

Workers surveyed said they would rather face a salary cut or a reduction in retirement benefits than lose any aspect of their health benefits.

“This is the highest level workers have ever valued their health benefit since we began asking these questions,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

“They should. Health care is two to three times more expensive these days,” she said.

Health care costs are rising at 7.5 percent, double the inflation rate, which is forcing employers to find ways to trim employee medical costs. One way is by shifting health care responsibilities to the worker, such as through health savings accounts, a key part of the consumer-driven health care movement.

Now is the time of year employers are making decisions about the design of their 2008 health benefit packages, and employers can save money by offering health plans that contain health savings accounts — these plans have high deductibles and allow people to store money for medical costs in a tax-exempt account.

But the survey says two out of three workers are happy with their health plans, and even those who rate their plan as fair or poor are not interested in purchasing a plan on their own.

Furthermore, more than half of employees oppose treating the employer’s contribution to plan premiums as taxable income. This is not surprising; nobody likes being taxed.

But a key component, along with promoting consumer-driven health care, of the Bush administration’s plan to make health care more affordable and easier to attain is to start taxing workers’ employer-sponsored health care.

And workers, like employers, care about costs. Of the 1,619 workers at large employers surveyed, more than half said they would accept fewer health-plan choices in order to keep premiums low.

The survey did not take into account small business, which is on the front line in the fight against rising health care costs. The Small Business Research Board reported last week that the cost of health care is the leading issue affecting small businesses during the first quarter of 2007.

The survey found that among nonsmoking employees, the sentiment exists that smokers should be charged more for health benefits because their lifestyle is unhealthy, however obese people should be spared the extra expense.

In other health news

Though the average American may not look healthy, new research shows we are now at least thinking healthy.

Four of five consumers are more concerned about health, nutrition and fitness than they were a year ago, according to a new survey of 3,000 consumers, conducted by Phil Lempert, a food industry analyst.

And nutrition has surpassed fitness as consumers’ top priority. The survey, which evaluated consumers’ attitudes toward selecting foods, stated 95 percent of consumers are concerned about nutrition.

Health Care runs Fridays. Contact Gregory Lopes at glopes@washingtontimes.com

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