4 ways to reassure your workforce about health care costs and coverage

Data from Gallup reveals the high value employees place on health-care benefits and that concern about the loss of those benefits often keeps people in unwanted jobs.

By Ted Kitterman      @tedkitkat      
New concerns over rising health care costs

If there’s a reason that organizations are holding onto employees, it’s likely health-care benefits are a significant part of it.

In a new report from Gallup and West Health, one in six workers reported staying in an unwanted job for the health benefits. The numbers were even higher for Black workers and employees who make less than $48,000 per year.

(Image via Gallup)

Black workers on the whole are estimated to be 50% more likely to stay in their jobs for the health care benefits than their white counterparts. Workers in households earning less than $48,000 a year were three times as likely to keep a job for health benefits compared with households making $120,000 or more.

Growing fear

The report shows workers increasingly fearful about their ability to keep up with the rising cost of health care without insurance coverage through their employer. Even workers who do have coverage worry about the increase in the cost of premiums.

(Image via Gallup)

Over half of survey respondents are either “concerned” or “very concerned” about the increasing costs of health-care services and that the cost of prescription drugs will continue to rise. In comparison, only 29% of workers are concerned about losing their jobs, showing the vastly heavier mental health strain caused by the fear over rising health care costs.

Forty-two percent of respondents are worried they would not be able to cover the cost of a major health event. That percentage climbs to 49% for Hispanic adults and 47% of Black adults.

What are the implications?

For well-being officers there are several concerns to be considered from the data:

Anxiety over health-care costs creates a mental-health burden. We know that workers are dealing with high levels of anxiety and stress after more than a year of crisis. Organizations and employers are turning to well-being officers to combat burnout, alleviate stress and keep workers resilient and productive.

Rising fears about the cost of health care, feeling trapped in a job over health care needs, and other poor choices available to workers will lead to decreased mental health and resilience. Add to this the uncertainty about long-term complications for the thousands of Americans who had COVID-19 over the past year, and you have a recipe for widespread panic.

To compensate, make sure you are putting extra effort into communicating about your health-care benefits package and associated benefits. If there are programs to help drive down premiums (which in some cases have outstripped wage gains) make sure to put them front and center.

 There’s a gap for Black employees that should be addressed. COVID-19 has clearly shown the disparities in the U.S. health-care system for minorities. Well-being officers should consider how those demographics might require extra assurance. The data clearly shows that minority employees are more concerned about being able to afford health care than their white counterparts, so think about how you can create special programs that serve those groups within your organization without “othering” them.

A good tip is to work with your employee resource groups and internal advocates to help deliver messaging about the ways your company is supporting health care for your workforce, and be sure to listen closely to see if there are any specific concerns your employees might have.

 Your health benefits—and related investments—matter deeply to workers. More workers report being concerned about paying for major health crises than losing their job or losing their home. That means you can do a lot for employee resilience and their sense of security by showing an investment in health-care benefits.

If your organization is thinking about increasing health benefits, covering more of the cost for premiums and deductibles, or adding services, make sure your employees see the investment. Go beyond an annual town hall where HR delivers the updates for the year and consider creating listening groups or internal workshops to help shepherd your workers through the insurance process. The modern health-care system has increased in complexity—to the point that it’s hard to realistically expect workers to be able to navigate it on their own. Make sure you offer plenty of resources and explainers to help them select the right coverage and feel more confident about their health and well-being.

Explain how your well-being initiatives help drive down medical costs. It might sound obvious, but a good well-being program should be working to keep your workers out of the hospital and away from those shockingly high bills. Even when insurance covers a procedure—receiving an invoice with all those zeros on it can be upsetting for people and create anxiety.

Part of your well-being initiatives should focus on education and offering workers the tools they need to prevent chronic illness and heavy medical costs. Just be sure that in your effort to encourage good habits, you don’t send a message to employees that workers who are unfortunate enough to become ill will be left to fend for themselves. You’re there to support their health, whether they complete the annual step challenge or not.