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Americans Focus on Preventive Care, Embrace Workplace Wellness Benefits as Health Care Costs Rise

Workers cite better overall health and lower costs as encouraging factors for participating in wellness programs

(Des Moines, Iowa) —More than half of American workers (51 percent) believe wellness benefits offered by their employer are successful at lowering health care costs, according to the latest Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM. The findings show that two-thirds of workers (up from 60 percent a year ago) expect increased premiums this year and more than four in 10 workers (43 percent, up from 38 percent) expect to pay higher deductibles.

As Americans continue searching for ways to contain costs in a slowing economy — including health care costs — the vast majority of workers with access to employer-sponsored wellness benefits are using them. When offered, more than three-fourths of workers (79 percent, up from 74 percent) take advantage of educational tools and resources offered by their employer, while 77 percent (up from 59 percent) participate in both blood sugar and cholesterol screenings.

The index, which surveys American workers at growing businesses with 10-1,000 employees is released by the Principal Financial Group® and conducted by Harris Interactive®. These findings focusing specifically on wellness attitudes and behaviors among American workers were taken from the fourth quarter 2008 Index.

"Americans face strong financial head winds as we enter the new year against the backdrop of a slowing economy," said Jerry Ripperger, national practice leader of consumer health for the Principal Financial Group. "Rising health care costs are fueling the fire at a time when many Americans are strapped for cash. Fortunately, it appears the majority of workers understand that adopting preventive health care measures not only improves overall health but can drive down costs in the long term."

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

Workers, including both those who did and did not have access to onsite activities, cited several factors that would encourage them to participate in a wellness program if offered by their employer. Better overall physical health and lower personal health care costs (53 percent and 38 percent, respectively) would most encourage them to participate. More than one-third of workers (38 percent) also said that receiving an incentive or reward would encourage them to partake in a wellness benefit program.

Despite the interest, however, many employers have been slow at making wellness benefits fully available to workers. For example, only 16 percent of workers indicated they have access to educational tools or resources at the work site, and just 13 percent receive fitness center discounts. Even fewer workers (11 percent) have access to on-site health screenings, educational wellness seminars and on-site fitness facilities.

"Improving Americans' health and reducing health care benefits must be a team effort between workers and employers," said Ripperger. "It's a win-win for both involved — workers benefit from healthier lifestyles and lower costs, while employers see a 2-to-1 return on investment through higher productivity and lower absenteeism, among other factors."

Cost Prevails When Choosing Health Plans

Nearly half of workers (42 percent) have more than one health plan option available through their employer. For the third straight year, monthly paycheck deduction ranked No. 1 in importance as 31 percent of workers (compared with 25 percent a year ago) said it motivates their decision on which plan they choose. Flexibility to choose doctors and facilities within the plan continued to decline in importance as 19 percent (down from 23 percent) ranked it as a motivating factor. Fourteen percent of workers (up from 11 percent) said physician office co-pay was also a motivating factor.

Methodology

This Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Principal Financial Group® from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29, 2008, among 1,179 employees and 625 retirees. This is one in a series of quarterly studies to identify and track changes in the workplace of small and midsize (growing) businesses. The first Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM survey was conducted in the United States in 2000.

Employees consisted of adults 18 and older who work at small and midsize (SMB) U.S. businesses (firm size: 10-1,000 employees). Retirees consisted of adults 60 and older who reported they are retired or those who are employed part time or self-employed and have retired from a previous career. Results were weighted as needed for age by gender, education, race/ethnicity, region and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error that are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" because they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100 percent response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the entire population of adult employees working for small to midsize U.S. businesses and retirees. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the Harris Interactive online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Methodology

This Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Principal Financial Group® between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, 2008, among 1,179 employees and 625 retirees. Results were weighted as needed for age by gender, education, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.  No estimates of the theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available, please visit http://www.principal.com/wellbeing/2008/wellbeing_4q2008_execsumm.htm for further detail.

About the Principal Financial Group

The Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®)[1] is a leader in offering businesses, individuals and institutional clients a wide range of financial products and services, including retirement and investment services, life and health insurance, and banking through its diverse family of financial services companies. A member of the Fortune 500, the Principal Financial Group has $287.4 billion in assets under management[2] and serves some 19.0 million customers worldwide from offices in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. Principal Financial Group, Inc. is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol PFG. For more information, visit www.principal.com.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research that is powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

[1]
"The Principal Financial Group" and "The Principal" are registered service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a member of the Principal Financial Group.
[2]
As of September 30, 2008
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