Workers would rather save up for retirement than pay for health care


A new study shows workers are more willing to pay more for guaranteed retirement benefits than they would pay for more predictable medical costs. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

People are more willing to gamble with their health than their retirement, a new study found.

Even though workers aren’t too thrilled with either their health or their retirement packages, a survey released Tuesday by professional services consulting firm Towers Watson found that some 62% of workers said they were willing to pay more if it meant they would have guaranteed retirement benefits -- but only 34% of workers said they would pay up for more predictable medical costs. (The study was the second in a series of three reports Towers Watson is releasing on how employees view their benefits.)


Source: Towers Watson

Why is this the case? It could be because people are already fed up with having to pay more for health insurance, says David Speier, a retirement consultant in Towers Watson’s Arlington office. Workers are being asked to shoulder a greater share of their health costs through high deductible plans, higher insurance premiums and bigger copayments.

A separate study released earlier this year by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found that employees’ share of premium costs increased to $2,975 in 2014, up nearly 32% from $2,262 in 2009. And health care costs are rising at a faster clip than inflation and are outpacing wage growth, says Speier. “People are struggling with that,” he says.

Consumers also reported being less content with their healthcare plans overall. The survey found 59% of workers said they were happy with their health coverage in 2013, down from the roughly seven in 10 workers who said they were satisfied with their plans in 2007. Towers Watson surveyed more than 5,000 full-time workers in the U.S. between July and September 2013.

Among the least satisfied were those who were most likely to need their benefits-- those who were older or in poor health. While 62% of employees said their health plans meet their needs, only 45% of workers in poor health said their plan supports their medical needs. And that satisfaction is likely to keep sinking as people are asked to pay for a bigger share of their health costs out of pocket, researchers said.

People weren’t too in love with their retirement plans either. Those surveyed approached their plans with a sense of resignation: 67% said they were satisfied with their plans but only 47% felt their plans would meet their needs in retirement, a disparity the researchers attribute to the fact that most workers have little say in what retirement plan their company offers.

And the majority of people surveyed, or 74% said their company’s plan was their main way of saving for retirement, up from 56% in 2010. “Perhaps employees tend to be satisfied with what they have because there are so few attractive alternatives,” the report notes.

Jonnelle Marte is a reporter covering personal finance. She was previously a writer for MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal.
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