Rising Health Care Costs Worrying Workers

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Rising Health Care Costs

Rising health care benefit costs are causing considerable angst among U.S. workers.

However, most workers say they are willing to improve their own health to help control future costs and prepare themselves for a more enjoyable retirement.

In its survey of nearly 2,100 U.S. workers, Watson Wyatt found that more than half (51 percent) of respondents are highly concerned that they won't be able to pay for health care coverage when they retire. More than one-third (35 percent) of respondents are concerned that a major medical expense would ruin them financially. Many workers are also worried about the impact of rising costs in the near term. Two in three (68 percent) believe their deductibles and copayments will increase in the next two years; more than half are worried that their employer will reduce their health benefits coverage.

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"There's no doubt the rise in health care benefit costs is taking its toll on today's workers both financially and in the form of increased stress," said Cathy Tripp, a senior group and health care consultant at Watson Wyatt. "It's in employers' best interests to help employees see the big picture and plan for the future. Employees who understand how the benefits choices and health decisions they make today can affect them in the long run will be less worried about their prospects of enjoying a healthy and financially secure retirement."

According to the survey, 12 percent of workers have reduced contributions to their retirement savings plans because of higher health care costs, while 18 percent have cut back on contributions to other savings. About one in four workers also reported higher stress levels due to rising health care costs.

The majority (61 percent) of workers say they see a connection between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and controlling cost increases. Moreover, many employees are willing to make changes in their lifestyle to improve their current health status - 31 percent are in the process of doing so, and 27 percent are considering making a change.

The survey found that six in ten employees have tried to take better care of themselves, with 37 percent getting an annual physical. In addition, 42 percent are attempting to control health expenditures by choosing a lower-cost drug option when available.

"Employees have been getting the message many employers have been trying to send - that improving one's health pays dividends now and in the future," said Kathryn Yates, global director of Watson Wyatt's communication practice. "But the lines of communication go both ways. By listening to their workforce and tailoring programs to meet employees' needs, employers will be better able to help employees tackle smoking, obesity and other health management issues."

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