Employers: Help close health literacy gaps

2 minute read

Times
have changed since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. Today, nearly
all Americans have access to major medical insurance, either through workplace
plans or the health care marketplace. And while it might seem that the
availability of coverage has evened the playing field, the 2015 Aflac
WorkForces Report reveals clear differences in understanding and engagement with
their health care benefits.

The report shows that health
literacy and financial preparedness are low among a majority of Americans, but socioeconomic gaps are emerging: Higher-income households
(those earning $100,000 per year or more) are more likely to understand and
take advantage of their health care benefits than lower-income households
(those earning less than $50,000 per year).

Why is this difference in health
care literacy and enrollment a concern? Because lower-income households are
significantly less prepared to cope with financial fallout stemming from
illnesses and injuries. These are the households that most need to comprehend
and take advantage of the health care benefits available to their families.

Employee income: The dividing
line

Aflac’s research reveals
Americans’ overall lack of knowledge and comfort about health insurance. Just
10 percent report understanding their total annual health care costs very or
extremely well, while 71 percent at least somewhat agree their personal health
insurance situations will become more confusing as times goes on.

Dive a little deeper, though,
and we begin to see gaps between higher- and lower-income households, not only
in benefits literacy, but also in the use of products that help assure
financial security. Individuals with lower household incomes are less likely to
be enrolled in job-based benefits, and they’re also less likely to be satisfied
with their benefits.

It’s worth noting that just one
in four adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty
level has access to employer-sponsored health insurance. That’s in sharp
contrast to the 90 percent of adults with incomes at or above 400 percent of
the poverty level who do have access to such coverage.1

As you can see, there’s a clear
pattern of enrollment disparity between lower- and higher-income households.
But the gaps don’t stop there. Higher-income workers are more likely to be
satisfied2 with their benefits packages (58 percent vs. 46 percent
for lower-income wage earners). They also devote more time to learning about
their benefits: Half of those earning less than $50,000 per year spent less
than 30 minutes researching their benefits during their last open enrollment,
compared to 41 percent of those at the $100,000-or-above mark.

Employers can use the 2015 Aflac
WorkForces Report
to better understand how to improve employee
engagement with their benefits options and help close their health literacy
gaps. The report explores gaps between higher- and lower-income wage earners
before shifting to a more holistic view of overall benefits trends,
consumerism, employee expectations and technology.

1 Urban Institute Health Policy Center,
“QuickTake: Low-income adults are less likely to have access to
employer-sponsored coverage,” accessed March 25, 2015 –
http://hrms.urban.org/quicktakes/Employer_Sponsored_Coverage.html

2 Satisfied = number of 2015 Aflac WorkForces Report participants
who reported being very or extremely satisfied with the benefits offered to
them