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Employers expect to boost virtual care offerings

August 20, 2020
  • Large employers expect to pay more than $15,500 per employee for health coverage next year, 5.3% higher than the $14,769 expected this year, according to an annual survey from nonprofit Business Group on Health. That’s slightly up from the 5% increase employers estimated in each of the previous five years. 
  • Employers are increasingly welcoming virtual care options. About 80% of respondents said they believe telehealth will play a significant role in how care is delivered in the future, compared with 64% in 2019 and 52% in 2018. More than half said they will offer more virtual care to employees next year.
  • Employers also plan to expand access to virtual mental health and emotional well-being services. More than 90% said they will offer telemental health services, and 54% plan to lower or waive those costs in 2021.

Six months into the pandemic, insurance companies are reporting record profits as Americans continue delaying routine in-person care. Many have turned to telehealth services or stopped receiving preventive and elective care altogether, making the exact cost employers will pay for workers’ health coverage “a moving target” over the next few years, Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of the group, said.

While exact costs remain unclear, “you can look no further than a pandemic to very clearly see that matters of health and well-being do directly impact employee productivity, engagement and, moreover, how employers think about deploying their workforce,” Kelsay said Tuesday during a call with reporters.

Business Group on Health’s annual survey asked large employers about their healthcare strategies, with 122 businesses participating this year, representing a wide range of industries. The amount of employers who view their healthcare strategy as an integral part of their approach to their workforce increased from 36% in 2019 to 45% this year.

Beyond expanding online mental health resources, respondents also mentioned interest in virtual care for musculoskeletal management conditions. Musculoskeletal conditions were most frequently cited by employers as contributing to rising health care costs, and 29% of those surveyed said they will offer musculoskeletal management virtually next year.

Kelsay said virtual treatments for common joint conditions can help stave off unnecessary surgical interventions, and “now that we have a workforce that for many months has been working at home and probably not in the most ideal of ergonomic situations, we expect to see musculoskeletal conditions continue to worsen.”

Despite a pandemic, employers are still looking at their in-person care delivery sites as well. About 72% said they either have a clinic in place or will by 2023. And 34% offer primary care services at the worksite, while another 26% plan to have the service available by 2023.

There’s also interest in updating primary care strategies to focus on whole-person care. More than half said they’ll have at least one advanced primary care strategy, compared with 46% in 2020.

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