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Survey: Workers value retirement benefits more than health plans

May 12, 2014 - 12:05am

People are more willing to gamble with their health than their retirement, a new study found.

Some 62 percent of workers said they were willing to pay more if it meant they would have guaranteed retirement benefits, according to a recent survey by professional services consulting firm Towers Watson. But only 34 percent of workers said they would pay up for more predictable medical costs.

Why is this the case? It could be because people are already fed up with having to pay more for health insurance, said David Speier, a retirement consultant in Towers Watson’s Arlington office. Workers are often being asked to shoulder a greater share of their health costs through high deductible plans, higher insurance premiums and bigger copayments.

A separate study released earlier this year by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found that employees’ share of premium costs increased to $2,975 in 2014, up nearly 32 percent from $2,262 in 2009. And health-care costs are rising at a faster clip than inflation and outpacing wage growth, Speier said. “People are struggling with that,” he said.

Consumers also reported being less content with their health-care plans overall. The survey found that 59 percent of workers said they were happy with their health coverage in 2013, down from the roughly seven in 10 workers who said they were satisfied with their plans in 2007. Towers Watson surveyed more than 5,000 full-time workers in the United States between July and September 2013.

Among the least satisfied were those who were most likely to need their benefits — those who were older or in poor health. While 62 percent of employees said their health plans met their needs, only 45 percent of workers in poor health said their plans were sufficient. And that satisfaction is likely to keep sinking as people are asked to pay for a bigger share of their health costs out of pocket, researchers said.

People weren’t too in love with their retirement plans, either. Those surveyed approached their plans with a sense of resignation: 67 percent said they were satisfied with their plans but only 47 percent felt their plans would meet their needs in retirement, a disparity the researchers attribute to the fact that most workers have little say in what retirement plan their company offers.

The majority of people surveyed, or 74 percent, said their company’s plan was their main way of saving for retirement, up from 56 percent in 2010. “Perhaps employees tend to be satisfied with what they have because there are so few attractive alternatives,” the report noted.

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