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Workers wildly unprepared for health care changes

Original article https://ebn.benefitnews.com

By Tristan Lejeune

The third annual Aflac WorkForces Report, released last week, reveals a sobering gap in employee readiness to handle and take on the shift toward consumer-driven health plans and defined contribution health. A majority of workers (54%) would prefer not to have more control over their insurance options, citing a lack of time and information to manage it effectively, and 72% have never even heard the phrase “consumer-driven health care.”

Aflac and Research Now surveyed 1,884 benefits leaders and 5,229 wage-earners and found arresting disconnects in their expectations, plans and views of the future. For example, 62% of employees think their medical costs will increase, but only 23% are saving money for those hikes. A full three-quarters of the workforce think their employer will educate them about changes to their health care coverage as a result of reform, but only 13% of employers say educating employees about health care reform is important to their organization.

“It may be referred to as ‘consumer-driven health care,’ but in actuality, consumers aren’t the ones driving these changes, so it’s no surprise that many feel unprepared,” says Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac. “The bottom line is if consumers aren’t educated about the full scope of their options, they risk making costly mistakes without a financial back-up plan.”

Aflac reports what many benefits leaders instinctively know: Consumersalready find health insurance decisions intimidating and don’t welcome increased responsibility. Fifty-three percent fear they might mismanage their coverage, leaving their families less protected than they are now. And significant ignorance remains: Plan participants are not very or not at all knowledgeable about flex spending accounts (25%), health savings accounts (32%), health reimbursement accounts (49%) or federal or state health care exchanges (76%).

According to Aflac, 53% of employers have introduced a high-deductible health plan over the past three years, and that trend shows no sign of slowing. Yet more than half of workers have done nothing to prepare for changes from HDHPs, the Affordable Care Act or other system shifts.

“It’s time for consumers to face reality,” Tillman says. “Ready or not, they are being put in control of their health insurance decisions – and that means having to make choices that could have a big impact on personal finances. If employers aren’t offering guidance to workers on how to make crucial benefits decisions, the responsibility lies in the hands of consumers to educate themselves.”