One of the best things about scoring permanent employment is reaping the prized benefits that come along with it—health insurance being chief among these perks. And in a time of economic uncertainty, health coverage becomes ever more crucial. As work and family life absorb the bulk of an employee's attention and finances, having medical costs defrayed by a generous benefit package can be both a comfort and an asset.
Here are seven reasons why job-sponsored health coverage is so crucial for employees and why they should make the most of it:
1. It reduces absenteeism. A healthy employee is more present and productive. And the more physically sound workers are, the less likely they will be to miss work days. "If you prevent illnesses and you maintain a healthy weight, and you feel good about yourself, you're obviously not going to miss as much work," says Katrina Firlik, co-founder and chief medical officer for HealthPrize Technologies in Norwalk, Conn. "Especially when it comes to things like mental health."
By taking advantage of preventative health services or treatments, employees stay positively active in the workforce, adds Firlik. "[Health benefits] keep you out of the hospital, and it makes you a better employee all around. Keeping people on the job is good for the employee but also good for the business," she says. "What's nice is that everybody's interests are aligned ... the business wants happy, healthy employees and the employees want to be happy and healthy as well. So economically, it's great."
2. It saves money. When it comes to penny-pinching, Firlik urges workers to pursue every benefit available to them, especially healthcare perks. "[Your healthcare] is one thing you really don't want to skimp on. Taking advantage of any sort of employee benefit is critical to you maximizing your own savings and keeping money in your own pocket," she says. But this doesn't mean workers should forgo important health services. Healthy behaviors are still critical, and it's unfortunate that they fall by the wayside when people are in a money crunch, Firlik adds. "People end up 'splitting pills,' so to speak, because they don't want to pay their co-pay, and they want to make the prescription last longer," she says. "These are things people do for economic reasons, but they end up really hurting their health in the long run."
Marcia Miller Telthorster, vice president of human resources at Princeton HealthCare System, agrees, adding, "If something unforeseen happens—a major illness or injury—few people would have the resources to cover the cost without health insurance. One could be left with bills that will last a lifetime."
A good health plan not only protects against that scenario, adds Telthorster, but also promotes healthy living—regular exercise, good nutrition, and preventive medical care. "Ultimately, the goal is to keep each person healthier, which reduces costs in the long run and also improves his or her quality of life," she says.
Cindy Wang Morris of the American Psychological Association, agrees. "Anyone living with a serious mental or physical illness knows firsthand the staggering costs of healthcare in the U.S.," she says. "Health insurance coverage can mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of healthcare costs. Even without a serious illness, many Americans do not have the financial means to pay for treatment."
3. It heightens job satisfaction. Employees glean job satisfaction from saving more of their own money and not having to pay out-of-pocket for their own healthcare and other services, but they also take solace in that fact that their employer cares about them, adds Firlik. "Even though they might be doing it for largely economic reasons, you do get the sense that you're being cared for, and you have a caring employer," she says. "I think those are all factors that play into being a happy employee."