The percentage of employees who believe their group health care benefits are worth the out-of-pocket costs they pay sank in 2012 to its lowest point since the end of the 2007-2009 recession, according to a survey by New York-based Mercer L.L.C.
Thirty-six percent of employees polled in Mercer's annual Workplace Survey indicated that their out-of-pocket costs were "definitely" commensurate with the health benefits they receive through their employer, down from 44 percent in 2011 and 38 percent in 2010. Conversely, 20 percent of employees said their health care benefits were "probably" or "definitely" not worth the associated out-of-pocket costs, compared with 15 percent in 2011 and 18 percent in 2010.
"Even without significant changes in their health and other benefits compared to last year, the perceived value of benefits by employees is down across the board—a surprising reversal of five years of generally improving perceptions of benefit value," the study said.
Now in its 10th year, Mercer's annual Workplace Survey was conducted jointly with the Stamford, Connecticut-based research firm Brightwork Partners L.L.C. The study's results are based on interviews with 1,656 active 401(k) participants completed between June 6 and June 21, 2012.
Since 2011, 45 percent of employees said they've been asked to take on a greater share of their own health care costs, while 17 percent said their benefits had been reduced.
As the perceived value of their health benefits shrank for many employees in 2012, so, too, did the number of employees for whom their benefits plan was a key driver of job satisfaction, the results indicated.
According to the study, 74 percent of employees said they chose their current employer based on its health care benefit offerings, down from 78 percent in 2011. Sixty-eight percent of employees said the strength of their health benefits package made them feel as though their employer appreciated their worth to the company in 2012, down from 75 percent a year ago.
One key factor in employees' diminished opinions regarding their employer-sponsored health care plans could be the prevailing sense among survey respondents that managing their individual benefits has become more complicated in the past year. Seventy-four percent of employees this year said understanding the features and options available in their health plan was "very" or "somewhat" easy, compared with 84 percent who said the same of their health care plans in 2011. Employees also indicated that enrolling and making changes to their health care plans had become significantly more difficult from 2011 to 2012.
Employees' satisfaction with the information they're given regarding their health benefits also sank in 2012, with 31 percent of workers indicating they were "very satisfied" with the information provided, down from 41 percent a year ago.
Waning confidence in retirement plans
Mercer also polled employees' perceptions of their retirement plans. Although most employees said they expect to contribute more money to their 401(k) plans this year than they had in 2011, their confidence in their own retirement strategies declined precipitously in 2012. In particular, the percentage of employees who were confident in their decisions regarding plan asset allocation dropped to 78 percent in 2012 from 85 percent in 2011.
Meanwhile, survey results indicated a diminishing share of employees who believe their retirement savings will be adequate to meet their needs when they leave the workforce. Fifty-two percent of employees said they believe they will have to have to work part time into their retirement, up from 47 percent who said the same a year ago. Forty-four percent of this year's respondents expected they will need to reduce their standard of living after retirement, compared to 38 percent in 2011.