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7 Reasons to Take Advantage of Employee Healthcare Benefits

Jessica Harper

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:

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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."

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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."

4. It boosts employee engagement. Whatever an employer can do to improve morale--and health benefits are definitely part of that--makes employees feel more positive about their work and their employer, says Firlik. This leads employees to be more engaged in other work-related activities. "If you have a better attitude, you're more likely to be engaged," she says.

5. It helps employers retain their best employees. Sought-after employees have the upper hand when it comes to negotiating job perks and benefits. "If an employee is in a lucky position to be deciding between two potential jobs, it's exactly things like benefits that can make the difference," says Firlik. "And again, it's all about attitude toward the employer. The benefits are greater, if you have a more positive attitude toward the employer." Employees who feel wanted are sometimes more inclined to excel at work. "You're going to feel more motivated to work harder because you again feel like you're highly valued in the process."

[See 15 Ways Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

6. It's convenient. Allocating hours to scouring the Web for affordable healthcare packages can absorb mounds of time. Receiving health insurance through an employer can alleviate this burden, allowing workers to focus their attention and resources on other things like grocery shopping, car repairs, and tuition payments.

7. It sets a good example. Placing value on healthcare in the workplace can energize workers to place importance on it at home as well. This might especially prove true for busy adults who have limited free time due to job and family commitments. "Let's say you're a working mom and you have two kids. You're often so busy with your work and your family that your own health and preventative care falls by the wayside," says Firlik. "But when an employer places a lot of emphasis on healthcare, that helps you place emphasis on it."

Finally, the quality of healthcare coverage can vary, says Morris. It's important for job seekers to be mindful of this when weighing the benefits and limitations of their options. "Given the current economy, many people are happy to have a job, let alone healthcare benefits. However, individuals should know whether or not their benefits would meet their needs," she says. "In particular, it is important for people to know whether their providers are covered in their network and the out-of-pocket costs for treatment."

Several companies provide additional benefits, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which give short-term counseling and other counseling services, including wellness, tobacco cessation, and weight management groups.

"These services go a long way in keeping employees healthy," says Morris.

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