Two reports come at the issue of workplace benefits with different perspectives. Together, they combine to find that workers value benefits in 2009 more than they have in the past — and especially as the economic pressures on workers’ households is increasing.

Workscape’s Annual Benefits Study for 2009 illustrates several impacts of the economy on health benefits.

3 in 4 human resources professionals see employees’ having a heightened appreciation of benefits. The declining economy clearly has increased awareness and appreciation of workplace benefits.

With respect to health benefits, roughly one-half of small and mid-size employers now offer employees at least one consumer-driven (CDHP) or high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Two in 3 large employers do so. These numbers increased between 9 and 11 percentage points since 2008 depending on organization size.

Three-quarters of organizations’ respondents say that the economy is having an impact on their organization, most likely in the form of employees working hard and being more productive. Within the large employer segment, the harder-working employee is seen in healthcare, manufacturing and financial services sectors; not so much, though, in the government segment, based on the survey’s findings.

Workspace collaborated on the survey with Workforce Management. The poll was conducted among the journal’s subscriber base in May 2009. This duet conducted a similar study in 2008, which allows year-on-year comparisons between some of the datapoints. In total, 787 human resource professionals and CEOs were surveyed from small (<1000>5,000) companies.

Another report issued this week complements Workscape’s and Workforce Management‘s findings.

Trends In Underinsurance And The Affordability Of Employer Coverage, 2004-2007 is published in the policy journal Health Affairs online, exploring the tug-of-war between covered employees’ eroding coverage, and employee benefit consultants’ proposals for health consumers to get more “skin in the game.”

Jon Gabel et. al. found that, “if you are sick and earn a modest income, then you are probably underinsured–even if you have employer-based health coverage.” Underinsurance increased between 2004 and 2007, while the value of employer-based health insurance slightly fell. The authors identified the big change in health benefit design in that period was the growth of plans with deductibles along with increases in the average deductible levels. These include CDHPs and HDHPs — the kinds of plans Workscape’s report shows have grown roughly 10 percentage points between 2008 and 2009.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Gable and team point out that 2004-2007 was a period of economic expansion. Yet during that time, when the U.S. felt ‘richer,’ health financial protection eroded.

The team notes that after the 1991 and 2001 instances of economic decline, patient cost-sharing increased. In this recession of 2009, it is rational to expect cost-sharing will increase for American health citizens with employer-sponsored coverage.

It’s clear these most Americans who receive health benefits appreciate the value of these benefits more now than ever – even as people ante up more skin-in-the-game. Their level of appreciation may toggle over to financial frustration depending on whether their fiscal contribution deepens from epidermis to dermis in the personal health economic skin-game.

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