NU Online News Service, Nov. 21, 1:50 p.m. EST

Nearly three-quarters of consumers are worried about being able to afford health care now and in the future, and they want employers to do more to help them get the most out of wellness programs to help hold down costs, according to a new survey.

Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health, and The Futures Company surveyed more than 3,000 consumers covered by employer health plans, finding that 74 percent of respondents are concerned about affording health care.

“In order to help with their challenges and reduce costs, [consumers] want health programs that speak to their individual and families’ health care needs,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “Consumers are telling us that the one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness isn’t working for them.”

According to the survey, consumers want information that is tailored to their specific situation. Half of participants say they want a personalized plan that recommends specific actions they can take to improve their health based on their health status, up 9 percentage points from a similar survey in 2010. Aon Hewitt says workers also want one-stop access to information, with 40 percent expressing a preference for a wellness website and more than a third, 35 percent, saying they want personalized health tips and reminders.

Consumers say the best way to get them to participate in employer-sponsored health plans is through both cash and non-cash rewards. The survey says 60 percent of consumers would prefer such incentives to encourage them to take part in wellness, 50 percent say incentives would get them to participate in condition management programs, and 58 percent say they would respond to a health-risk questionnaire in return for the incentives.

In 2011, more than one-third of consumers did not participate in any health program or service offered by their employer. Aon Hewitt says this is due in part to lack of awareness.

Among the programs that workers did participate in, blood tests or biometric screenings were the most popular, with 61 percent participation, followed by health-risk assessments, with 57 percent participation.

Despite low participation, Aon Hewitt says that when workers do take part in these programs, satisfaction is extremely high, with 97 percent of consumers who took part in blood work/biometric screening saying they were satisfied. Additionally, 97 percent were happy with their on-site clinic or pharmacy and 92 percent were satisfied with the health-risk assessment.

Cost is still a big factor for consumers, of course. Aon Hewitt says 44 percent of respondents say they would like cost savings tips from their employers, and 33 percent want cost-estimating tools.

“If companies truly want to move the needle in terms of overall health and cost, they have to stop looking at employees as one group, and start looking at the individual,” says Joann Hall Swenson, principal and health engagement best practice leader at Aon Hewitt. “Employers can customize health information and related programs to address the specific health conditions and risks of their workers as well as offer specific tips and actionable steps they can take to improve their condition. In addition, offering tools that allow individuals to see and understand the cost of their health-care services goes a long way in helping workers make the most of their healthcare dollars.”