Most Americans (71%) are very concerned about their long-term financial future, according to the Principal Financial Well-Being Index data from the fourth quarter of 2009.

The #1 factor that has negatively impacted American workers’ overall financial well-being in the past decade was the surge in the price of gas in the summer of 2008 when the barrel of oil rose to $147. The drop in the real estate market and Dow Jones Index also eroded Americans’ financial health, they told Principal Financial.

The financial downturn in the U.S. has bolstered Americans’ personal valuation of health benefits, as the chart illustrates. Health benefits are the most highly-prized benefit to employees, followed by a defined contribution retirement plan and dental insurance. The lowest ranking benefit? Stock options, which many people have learned don’t mean much when a pile-up of medical bills often leads to bankruptcy in the U.S.

Highly-prized health benefits may be, but employees expect the fact they’ll also be higher-priced in 2010. 2 in 3 workers expects premiums to increase in 2010, and nearly one-half expect that deductibles will increase, too. Nonetheless, only 5% of workers believe that their employers will totally drop coverage.

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index is based on a survey conducted by HarrisInteractive in October 2009 among 1,120 employees in small and mid-sized businesses, and 602 retirees.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: While the Principal survey found that health benefits are beloved, most workers said health benefits should be improved upon. This mentality will inevitably harden as employees bear more costs but feel they’re getting less for their dollar.

Will insurance reforms included in macro health reform help ease the feeling of “getting less and spending more?” It depends on timing and just how big a loophole health plans will have when it comes to determining “medical necessity.” That’s a stay-tuned point that could quickly sour covered employees on reforms when and if they seek coverage for their newly-diagnosed cancer or Parkinson’s.

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