Hands off our health cover

Apr 13 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Most Americans consider their company health plan to be by far their most important benefit, so much so that they would rather see their salary or retirement benefits cut before losing any of their health coverage.

A nationwide survey by the National Business Group on Health, a non-profit association of 266 large U.S. companies, has found that a resounding eight out of 10. U.S. workers would rather see their salary or retirement benefit reduced rather than health benefits if their employer needed to reduce their total compensation.

"Overall, no aspect of a job is more important to workers of large companies than having good benefits," said Helen Darling, National Business Group on Health president.

"And, our survey results clearly show that the benefit most important for most workers is the health plan."

According to the survey, two-thirds consider their health plan to be excellent or very good. Three quarters said they value their health plan as the most important benefit, with just 14 per cent considering a retirement savings plan to be most important.

Meanwhile, amid the rising cost over coverage, two-thirds support the idea of charging smokers more for their health coverage with half backing increased costs for obese employees.

And of the 1,619 workers surveyed, more than half said they would accept fewer health plan choices in order to keep premiums low.

The majority Ė some six out of 10 - put high value on having a health plan that is easy to manage, allows freedom to choose doctors and limits their cost when they visit a doctor or get a prescription.

But employees clearly feel strongly about any potential trade-offs or changes that might involve their health care benefits and total compensation packages.

Three-quarters would prefer to get health benefits through their employer rather than getting additional salary to purchase their own, while almost six out of 10 are opposed to having the employer contribution to their health plan premium treated as taxable income.

Overall, around six out of 10 would be unhappy to reduce their health benefits to improve their retirement benefits or vice versa.

"The fact that so many employees are opposed to giving up any aspect of their health benefits, even in return for an improvement in other benefits, speaks volumes as to just how important they are from a worker and employer perspective," Helen Darling said.

"As the labor market tightens, employers will need to place an increased emphasis on their health benefits if they want to be able to compete for talented workers."