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October 13, 2021
David Burda
Consumerism Economics Outcomes

The Real Test of Health Literacy

Well, maybe people are little more informed about their health benefits and a little more health literate than I thought. Maybe. 

Sowing that seed of doubt in my mind is the new 2021 Workplace Wellness Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research. You can download 33 pages of survey results here

The findings give people with employer-sponsored health insurance a little more credit than I did in a recent podcast, “Are Employer and Employee Health Benefits Falling in Line? and a recent column, “Health Literacy: Assembly Required.” 

The findings are based on a survey of 2,016 full- and part-time employees in the U.S. Ninety percent of the respondents obtained their health benefits through an employer or union directly or indirectly. 

Of the benefits they receive through an employer or union, employees said they understand their health benefits more than other types of benefits offered. Sixty-nine percent said they understand their health benefits “extremely” or “very” well compared with benefits to help financial well-being (55 percent), benefits to help emotional well-being (54 percent) and voluntary or supplemental benefits (53 percent).

Further, 65 percent of the respondents described themselves as being “extremely” or “very” confident in their ability to make informed decisions about their employee benefits, including health coverage. 

Understanding and confidence, apparently, translate into satisfaction as 63 percent of the respondents said they were “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their health insurance. Another 28 percent said that they were “somewhat” satisfied with their health insurance.   

It’s at this point in reading the EBRI/Greenwald report that I asked myself, “Who are these people?” Are two-thirds of any group of employees anywhere satisfied with anything that its company does? Other than free coffee, I can’t think of anything.

But my faith was restored after getting to sections of the report that talked about affordability of health benefits. People may understand their health benefits, have confidence in picking them and be satisfied with them, but that doesn’t make medical care cheap.

Thirty-three percent of the respondents said their healthcare costs increased this year with 21 percent citing medical- or health-related debt as a “major problem.”

Of those who experienced higher healthcare costs this year:

  • 48 percent said they delayed going to the doctor
  • 48 percent said they increased their credit card debt 
  • 46 percent said they took out a loan or made a withdrawal from their retirement plan
  • 42 percent said they had difficulties paying for basic necessities
  • 40 percent said they had difficulties paying other bills

In my opinion, the real question raised by the EBRI/Greenwald survey is at what point does medical care get so expensive and so unaffordable that employees are “extremely” or “very” dissatisfied with health benefits offered by their employers and demand change?

That will be the real test of health literacy—knowing that you’re paying too much for too little. 

Thanks for reading.  

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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