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NBGH Survey Finds Recession Driving Many American Workers to Make Lifestyle Changes to Help Control Health Care Costs

WASHINGTON, May 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Underscoring the broad-based impact imposed by the worst economic environment in decades, the recession is taking a toll on some American workers' health and, consequently, is driving many workers to make behavioral changes to improve their health and well-being and better control their own health care costs, according to a new survey commissioned and released today by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).

NBGH represents 300 large employers - including 60 of the Fortune 100 - providing health benefits to over 55 million American workers, dependents, and retirees. The survey of 1,500 workers employed at large employers (2,000 or more employees) was conducted by Fidelity Investments in March 2009. Workers in the survey are between the ages of 22 and 69 and provided benefits through an employer-sponsored or union-sponsored health plan.

"These data confirm that the widespread economic anxiety is cascading onto individual workers' health and well-being," said National Business Group on Health President Helen Darling. "At the same time, the data also show that workers are more aligned with businesses about cost concerns and that individuals are taking demonstrable steps to improve their own personal health. For workers, businesses, and policymakers, this environment presents a 'teachable moment' to inculcate a renewed culture of health, including making healthier food choices and increased exercise."

NBGH commissioned this survey to ascertain how the recession is affecting American workers and to provide a snapshot about those areas where businesses should work more closely with their employees to help support them during a very challenging environment. Among the key findings:

  • The economic downturn is taking a toll on employees' physical and mental health. More than one-in-four respondents - 27 percent - report forgoing health care treatment to save money on copayments or coinsurance costs. One in five respondents - 20 percent - skipped taking their prescription drug medication dosage as prescribed by their doctor. Many workers, particularly older workers (44 percent of those aged 45-64), report that their mental health has been negatively affected by the economy.
  • Employees are more sensitive to the cost of health care. Not surprisingly, most workers are more attuned to the cost of health care, with 72 percent saying they have become more aware of the total cost of health care services in the past year and 56 percent more aware of what they pay for health insurance. Nearly all workers report reviewing their health plan options during their last annual enrollment period and about one in four changed health plans as a result.
  • Health improvement is more of a priority than it was a year ago. In perhaps a nod to controlling their own health care costs, a majority of survey respondents - 52 percent - report that living a healthy lifestyle is more of a priority than it was a year ago. One in three - 34 percent - report exercising more. Nearly half, 46 percent, say they are eating healthier and a plurality, 44 percent, report eating out less at fast-food restaurants.

The National Business Group on Health believes the survey data provide a pathway for businesses to help their workers cope - and thrive - despite the bad economy, including offering financial incentives to motivate health behavior changes; disseminating more information about the costs and quality of services at a provider level (for example, encouraging retail clinics for non-emergency care); using benefit statements to clearly articulate a commitment to wellness; and providing more targeted communications based on specific health conditions.

SOURCE National Business Group on Health
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