The Affordable Care Act does not appear to have seriously eroded employees’ appetite for and confidence in receiving health benefits from their employer. However, many employees say they would be content to simply be paid by their employer the amount the employer is paying toward their coverage, and having the freedom to choose their own.

At the same time, however, “individuals are not highly comfortable that they could use an objective rating system to choose health insurance, nor are they extremely confident that a rating system could help them choose the best health insurance,” according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

This suggests any consideration of giving employees a raise then cutting them loose to buy their own coverage on the private market would not be universally applauded. Indeed it might put an employer taking that approach at a competitive disadvantage in the labor market at a time when the economy continues to pick up steam.

Also see: Many employees need help picking the best health plan

Data supporting this hypothesis comes from the latest EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Health Confidence Survey. The latest poll, taken in 2014, has been conducted annually for more than a decade.

Most employees do not expect employers to be dropping health coverage. For example, 64% of employees in the latest poll are either “extremely” or “very” confident their employer will continue to offer health benefits. In 2010, the year of the ACA’s enactment, that number was only 55%.

Overall, “most workers are satisfied with the health benefits they have now and express little interest in changing the current mix of benefits and wages offered by their employers,” according to EBRI’s summary of the research.

The right mix

Specifically, more than two-thirds (69%) of employees polled said they are content (in varying degrees) with their health benefits. Only 19% said they would sacrifice some health benefits in favor of higher wages, and 12% took the opposite view.

Despite the significant growth in the proportion of health benefits that employees have to pay for in recent years, today’s 69% “satisfied” rate is only one point below the level expressed in 2001. The high water mark in employee satisfaction, reported in 2012 and 2013, was 74%, not a substantially greater proportion than today’s.

Also see: Pharmacy benefits eating up bigger portion of health care budgets

Employees are also confident (85% are either “somewhat, “very” or “extremely” so) that their employer has chosen the “best available” health plan for them. However, employees also value choice. While 40% of employees polled are content with having their employer handle health benefits as they currently are, another 41% would be happy to go out into the market and pick their own, if paid the same amount their employer is paying today for the employee’s coverage.

It is unlikely, however, that as many employees would hold that opinion if they fully grasped the difference in cost between group and individual health policies, or the tax implications of going that route.

The bottom line appears to be a general desire to have an ability to pick policy features best suited to themselves and their families. For example, 82% reported that it is either “extremely” or “very” important that they have a choice of health plans. Only 1% said it was “not at all important.”

Richard Stolz is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Maryland.

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