Many Workers Struggle with Medical Bills, Despite Having Insurance

A new survey has found that many American workers are struggling with medical bills even though they have employer-sponsored health plans.

The good news from the survey was that 81% of respondents said they had health insurance, which meant they were 19% more financially fit than people without insurance. They were also happier.

The survey found that:

  • One in 10 employees who have insurance and pay part of the premiums, also have annual out-of-pocket medical bills of more than $10,000.
  • 33% of insured employees carry medical debts that they are trying pay down.
  • Insured employees that carry medical debt are 42% less financially fit than those who do not have such debt.

Carrying debts related to medical care also affects employees’ health. The survey found that workers with money problems are:

  • Three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Eight times more likely to have sleep problems.
  • Four times more likely to suffer from depression and have suicidal thoughts.

Stress from medical debts can also affect worker productivity. Of employees with medical debt problems:

  • 24% have troubled relationships with co-workers.
  • 22% cannot finish their daily tasks.

Lost productivity from these two issues costs businesses up to 14% of payroll expenses, the survey found.

What can you do

Given that health care costs show no signs of abating, what can you do for your low-wage employees and also ensure that your own health insurance premiums don’t spiral out of control? Here are some options:

Vary premium level – If you have a mix of highly paid staff and lower-wage workers, you can create a tiered system where the latter receive greater premium contributions from you than do the former. About a quarter of large employers vary employee health insurance premiums. This is something that’s not feasible for all businesses, particularly if money is tight.

Offer plans with generous benefits – You can offer a slate of plans, from ones with larger copays and deductibles to those with low or no out-of-pocket costs for those employees willing to pay more in premium. This way, your low-wage workers have a choice of health plans which include lower deductibles and lower variability in potential out-of-pocket liability.

Offer skinny plans – Skinny plans still cover the 10 benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, but they typically have a narrow network of providers in exchange for low out-of-pocket costs for the enrollee. While this option is good for your younger and healthier worker, it is often a non-starter for those who have existing health issues.

Carefully review incentives and subsidies – Employers should design wellness incentives that do not penalize low-wage workers, who are more likely to smoke, (many employers impose a tobacco surcharge averaging $600 a year). Employers should couple tobacco surcharges with tobacco-cessation programs, and waive surcharges for employees who are trying to quit.

Offer plans with modern attributes – Telemedicine services can reduce health care costs, as they reduce the worker’s need to take time off for an appointment and also lower the cost of delivery of care.

Push for lower prices and costs – You should coordinate with us, so we can work with your health plans and providers to reduce costs.

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