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More Workers Prefer Higher Wages Over Better Health Benefits: EBRI

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There’s a trend growing of workers preferring fewer health care benefits in return for higher wages, according to a March paper from EBRI. Two-thirds of workers are satisfied with their current mix of wages and benefits, but since the percentage of workers who said they would make such a tradeoff has doubled from 10% in 2012 to 20% in 2015.

The report is based on data from EBRI’s 20132015 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey, which was conducted with Greenwald & Associates, and historical data from the Health Confidence Survey.

Overall satisfaction with health care coverage is high among workers who have coverage through their employers. Half of respondents said they were very or extremely happy with their current level of coverage, EBRI found, and 41% are somewhat satisfied. EBRI noted that satisfaction has been consistently high since 1998.

Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program for EBRI and one of the authors of the report, told ThinkAdvisor, “We didn’t dig into the drivers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if lack of wage growth was the main driver” for workers’ increasing preference for higher wages over health benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in mid-March that real average hourly earnings increased 1.2% year over year in February. Combined with a 0.6% decrease in the average workweek, the increase in real average weekly earnings was less than 1%.

Workers are confident their employers have chosen the best available health care plan, according to the report, although over two-thirds still reported being interested in having more choices when it comes to health plans. Furthermore, although a majority of workers reported some level of interest in having more choices for their health plan options, “individuals are not highly comfortable that they could use an objective rating system to choose health insurance, nor are they extremely confident that a rating system could help them choose the best health insurance,” according to EBRI.

Although confidence in whether employers will actually continue to offer health coverage has fluctuated, it has remained in the 55% to 65% range. In fact, workers are more confident in their employers’ intention to keep offering health care coverage than they are in their ability to choose a plan on their own.

Half of respondents said that even if their employment-based health benefits were taxed, they would still maintain their current level of coverage. Almost 30% said that they would want their employer to offer a less costly plan in that case, and 16% would purchase coverage directly through an insurer. 

— Read For Servicemembers, Debt Collection Is Top Consumer Complaint on ThinkAdvisor.