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Forty percent of employees responding to a new Willis Towers Watson survey said they had postponed medical care in the past year, including 28% who delayed or canceled a medical procedure or appointment.
Meanwhile, 17% failed to fill at least one prescription, while 20% said their healthcare provider delayed or canceled a procedure or appointment. When asked what made them delay care, 25% said they couldn’t afford it and 23% were unsure of the costs.
The survey also found that employees with significant difficulty paying for health care are more likely to suffer due to delayed care.
Overall, one-third of respondents whose care was postponed or canceled by themselves or a provider said their health suffered as a result. But of those who found it very difficult to afford healthcare, more than half (58%) said their health suffered.
“The ability to access and pay for health care has always been a priority for employers and employees alike,” said Regina Ihrke, Senior Director, Health and Benefits, WTW. “As organizations plan their future benefits offerings, in light of an expected increase in medical inflation, we expect most employers to prioritize affordability and continue to focus on the expanded use of virtual care, including telemedicine, as an integral part of their healthcare strategy to provide cost-effective, high-quality care to their employees and their families.”
WHAT IS THE IMPACT
If the survey results are accurate, health care affordability continues to be a major issue. Other aspects of the investigation took a broader view; for example, he found that three out of 10 American workers experience financial difficulties and that more than two out of five have difficulty meeting their basic needs.
The financial well-being of employees has been deteriorating since the start of the pandemic. According to the survey, more employees are living paycheck to paycheck – 41% this year compared to 38% in 2019. Among workers earning $100,000 or more, the number of employees living off a paycheck to paycheck has doubled from 18% in 2019 to 36% this year.
More than half of workers earning less than $50,000 (52%), single parents (53%) and those in poor or fair health (57%) also live paycheck to paycheck . And employees who live paycheck to paycheck are almost twice as likely to leave their employer for a 5% raise (48%) than those who don’t live paycheck to paycheck (29% ).
However, the news was not all dire. The survey showed that more than a third of respondents (36%) said employer-provided resources had helped improve their financial situation. This is up from 27% in 2017. Additionally, nearly half of respondents want financial apps and tools to be an integral part of their benefits programs.
THE GREAT TREND
Delayed care is still an issue, even as the pandemic begins to fade somewhat. The lingering effect on hospitals has been low patient volumes. According to a recent flash report from Kaufman Hall, significant decreases in patient volume, with just a slight drop in spending, negatively impact revenues and operating margins.
If financial pressures on employees persist, this trend could continue into the second half of the year. Financial problems are widespread, according to the survey. Many workers said they had difficulty accessing or paying for housing (23%), health care (22%) or healthy food (19%), while almost half suffered a financial shock during over the past year, the WTW investigation found.
About one in seven people (15%) have been the victim of financial fraud or scams, while 13% have incurred major expenses due to divorce or separation. These financial shocks could have led to financial moves that could undermine employees’ long-term security, including taking out a home equity loan or downsizing their home (23%); take out a 401(k) loan (26%); or being unable to pay their mortgage, rent or utility bills (36%).