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Insured workers skip medical care

One in four employees are choosing not to receive care to save on out-of-pocket costs; many others are either splitting their pills or not taking them at all.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- One in four employees is choosing to ignore medical care to save on costs, while many other workers are either splitting their pills or skipping their medications to make them last longer, according to a new survey Wednesday.

According to the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), 27% of insured workers are skipping health care treatments to avoid co-payments, 20% of employees are not taking their prescriptions as advised by their doctors, and 17% of employees are cutting their pills in half to make them last longer.

The NBGH said these types of risky behaviors are a result of the recession, and illustrate the "toll [it is taking] on employees' physical, mental and financial health."

The survey is disturbing to some. "We think the last two trends are particularly dangerous, assuming that a correct diagnosis was made to prescribe the medicine and they are intentionally not being taken," said Helen Darling, president of NBGH, which is a non-profit group representing mostly large employers, including 60 of the Fortune 100 companies.

The emotional toll. Not surprisingly, the survey also showed that the recession had become a burden on workers' mental and financial health: 40% of employees said their stress and anxiety was worse since the start of the economic slump, and 50% said the economy has worsened their financial situation.

Also, 67% of those polled said saving more is a top priority this year, up sharply from 29% in 2008.

Regarding the cost of health care, 58% of those surveyed said they "continue to be surprised" at their out-of-pocket costs. Still, 68% of employees say having access to health benefits is a key reason for staying with their employer.

Another significant finding was that improving their health has jumped in priority for American workers.

The survey showed 52% of respondents said living a healthier lifestyle is more of a priority this year, compared with 44% who felt the same way a year ago.

In that regard, more than half of workers polled believed that smokers should pay higher health care premiums and 47% said obese employees should also pay higher premiums.

A majority of those polled said financial incentives from their employers has motivated them to try to lead a healthier lifestyle.

"We aren't surprised by these findings. They show that people are really worried," said Darling.

Helping people cope. However, Darling said her group is also focused on recommending steps employers can take to help their workers manage their health care expenses.

'Employers have to be aware that they can do several things," she said.

Among the group's recommendations, she said employers can offer financial incentives to motivate healthy behavior. They can also provide more transparency to workers about costs and quality of services from health care providers, and spread awareness about financial counseling services available through employee assistance programs.

The NBGH also suggested that employers remind their workers of cost savings through use of generic medication, mail-order and nurse help-line services.

The NBGH survey was conducted in March and polled 1,500 workers between the ages of 22 and 69 who either have employer-sponsored insurance or union-sponsored health plan. To top of page

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