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Health literacy: The next benefits challenge

Before the U.S. health care system was overhauled, having major medical insurance was largely determined by one key thing: where an individual worked. Americans employed by companies that offered employer-sponsored plans were covered, while those working for companies that didn’t were often out of luck.

Times have changed since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. Today, nearly all Americans have access to major medical insurance, either through workplace plans or the health care marketplace. And while it might seem that the availability of coverage has evened the playing field, the 2015 Aflac WorkForces Report reveals there’s still a line dividing health care haves and have-nots.

For five years, the WorkForces Report has examined employer, employee and broker opinions and attitudes about health care issues and benefits options. The first four reports largely centered on the tidal wave of change brought about by reform. Now that reform is a reality, the focus is shifting. While health literacy and financial preparedness is low among a majority of Americans, socioeconomic gaps are emerging: Higher-income households, or those earning $100,000 per year or more, are more likely to understand and take advantage of their health care benefits than lower-income households, or those earning less than $50,000 per year.

Why is this difference in health care literacy and enrollment a concern? Because lower-income households are significantly less prepared to cope with financial fallout stemming from illnesses and injuries. These are the households that most need to comprehend and take advantage of the health care benefits available to their families, because many are just one serious medical incident away from economic ruin.

The 2015 Aflac WorkForces Report takes a look at benefits from multiple perspectives. It explores gaps between higher- and lower-income wage earners before shifting to a more holistic view of overall benefits trends, consumerism, employee expectations and technology. Employers can use the information to better understand how to improve employee engagement with their benefits options and help close their health literacy gaps.

Read more of the analysis by downloading the PDF, or Read the Executive Summary Brochure