Financial meltdown saps nation’s vim and vigor

A new victim is emerging from the clutches of the U.S. economic crisis — our physical health.

A survey of workers with employer-based health insurance offers a cautious prognosis for the long-term vitality of the middle class.

A report on health care spending by consulting firm Watson-Wyatt finds that in the short-term more employees are attempting to save money by skipping doctor’s visits, not filling prescriptions or choosing lower-cost drug options than last year.

It’s something many of us can relate to. But another more worrisome trend is that folks are digging into their retirement and savings accounts to pay for health care:

The economy and higher health costs are taking a toll on the long-term financial security of many workers. This year, health costs are forcing many employees to decrease their retirement savings plan contributions (13 percent), and a fifth of workers (20 percent) indicate that their ability to save for retirement is reduced because of health costs. Also, more workers acknowledge difficulty paying for basic needs (15 percent in 2008 compared to 10 percent last year), depleted personal savings (11 percent in 2008 compared to 6 percent in 2007) or needing to borrow money (10 percent in 2008 compared to 5 percent in 2007). For employees in fair or worse health the impact is even more significant.

The Watson Wyatt report also finds that some workers are taking steps to improve their own health, up 4 percent over last year, to reduce their medical costs.

Cathy Tripp, national leader of consumerism at Watson Wyatt offers advice to companies that want to stem the tide of desperate financial decisions by its employees.

“In the current financial climate, employers stand to gain from reinforcing messages on preventive care, wellness resources and the importance of following prescribed drug regimens,” said Tripp. “There are a number of behaviors that, if embraced today, will lead to substantial health cost savings in the long term.”

h/t The Health Care blog

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Wendy Norris

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