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Guardian Survey Reveals Widespread Lack of Understanding of Health Savings Accounts
Date:6/3/2009

National Study by Guardian Life Insurance Identifies Key Motivators for Participation

NEW YORK, June 3 /PRNewswire/ -- The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), a leading provider of employee benefits for small and mid-sized companies, today announced the results of a comprehensive survey on consumers' attitudes and beliefs regarding healthcare coverage, including health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

The Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on Consumer-Driven Health Plans survey (the survey) revealed that there is still widespread uncertainty about healthcare coverage options. Six years after HSAs were introduced as part of the solution to reducing healthcare costs, only 59% of consumers know about them and more than half of those who are aware do not understand key features of HSAs.

"Because these plans offer compelling benefits for both employers and their employees, we wanted to uncover the obstacles to increasing participation, identify key motivators and develop Guardian resources to expand ownership of HSAs," explained Tim Bireley, Vice President of Group Medical.

More Education Needed on Health Savings Accounts' Benefits

Ownership of HSAs is relatively low with only one in seven owning an HSA, based on the survey of 1,000 adults conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Guardian in December of 2008. Even with awareness, 52% of survey participants did not know that HSA contributions are not subject to tax and 55% think they must pay taxes on withdrawals even when they are used for qualified medical expenses. Portability is another area of confusion with 60% unaware that they take the HSA with them should they change jobs.

Understanding consumer attitudes towards HDHPs and HSAs helps benefit advisors address employers' needs and ensures that their employees understand their healthcare options. This, in turn, prepares consumers to get the most from their medical benefits.

Consumer-driven plans offer the potential for substantial cost savings to employers but at the same time add an extra level of complexity which may dissuade them from considering this attractive plan. To help employers over this hurdle, Guardian offers a comprehensive employee communication program that encompasses certified enrollment specialists, face to face on-site meetings, an employee benefits hotline to answer employees' questions and customer-friendly materials to explain how the HDHP and HSA work together to pay for the healthcare needs of employees and their families.

Obstacles to Health Savings Accounts

When asked why they do not participate in HDHPs and HSAs, commonly known as consumer-driven health care, consumers cited a variety of reasons, including expense and lack of knowledge. With more education, employees can learn how these plans can help them to save money without sacrificing benefits.

According to the survey, two key motivators that would make consumer-driven healthcare more appealing to consumers are employer contributions to the HSA (61%) and the inclusion of critical illness insurance coverage (57%). Another factor favoring expanded ownership of HSAs is that 85% of consumers participating in this survey stated they want more control over decisions that can influence the cost of their healthcare.

Employers Can Save Costs Without Reducing Benefits

Responding to this interest, Guardian recently entered the consumer-driven health care market with the introduction of a new HDHP coupled with a tax-deductible HSA that lets members set aside money that can be used tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses.

"As the economy - coupled with rising healthcare premiums - forces business owners, employees and benefit decision makers to make difficult financial choices regarding their healthcare offerings, consumer-driven health plans can provide a solution," said Bireley. "A truly comprehensive consumer-driven health offering must also provide plan members with the education and tools they need to make smart healthcare decisions. With the benefit of these consumer insights, Guardian developed a program designed to meet the needs of cost-conscious employers and empower their employees to become smarter consumers of healthcare."

Guardian is one of a few insurance companies offering a consumer-driven plan paired with critical illness supplemental coverage. The addition of critical illness as an option helps assure employees that funds will be available in the event they are faced with certain critical illnesses or an unrelated hospital stay, before balances have accumulated in their HSA. Critical illness payouts may be used any way the insured chooses - even if unrelated to a medical expense. "The current economic climate presents an opportunity to introduce this product to employers who will likely embrace our approach to managing healthcare costs as HDHPs grow in popularity and traditional cost shifting fails to bridge the gap in the face of rising healthcare costs," said Bireley.

A copy of The Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on Consumer Driven Health Plans survey is available at www.GuardianBenefits.com.

Guardian medical and critical illness plans are available in select states.

About the Survey

The Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on Consumer Driven Health Plans survey presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,001 adults comprising 500 men and 501 women, 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. The interviews were conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, N.J. from December 12-15, 2008.

About Guardian

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), one of the largest and oldest mutual life insurance companies in the United States, is known for its stability and strength. A Fortune 300 company, Guardian is the only major life insurer to earn upgrades from two major rating agencies in 2008: A++ (Superior) by A.M. Best and AA+ (Very Strong) by Standard & Poor's. Guardian also has retained ratings of Aa2 (Excellent) by Moody's and AA+ (Very Strong) by Fitch (ratings current as of April, 2009).

Founded nearly 150 years ago, Guardian and its subsidiaries are committed to protecting individuals, business owners and their employees with life, long term care insurance, disability income and dental insurance products, and offer 401(k), annuities and other financial products and trust services.

Guardian operates one of the largest dental networks in the United States, and protects more than six million employees and their families at 120,000 companies. The company has more than 5,400 employees in the United States and a network of over 3,000 financial representatives in more than 80 agencies nationwide.

For more information about Guardian, please visit: www.GuardianLife.com.


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SOURCE The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America
Copyright©2009 PR Newswire.
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