The pace of health care cost inflation has remained moderate over the past year or so, and employers are trying to keep it that way. In response, many businesses are not seeking immediate cost-cutting measures or asking employees to shoulder more of the burden. Rather, they are looking to ‘future-focused’ health care plan features to encourage healthful behaviors.
This was a major finding of the 2018 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, an annual study issued by Mercer.
Among the future-focused strategies highlighted by the survey are telemedicine services. Also known as virtual care, the services streamline delivery of health care services by gathering medical data and offering interaction with health care professionals remotely via apps and the phone.
One of the promises of virtual care services is that patients will be more willing to seek medical attention when it can be delivered conveniently, and this inherent efficiency will lead to better health outcomes and reduced costs. But the study found that, though telemedicine services are widely offered, utilization rates remain low.
Specifically, the proportion of large employers (those with at least 500 employees) incorporating telemedicine into their health benefits — 80 percent — was up substantially from 71 percent in the previous year’s survey (2017) and just 18 percent in 2014. But utilization was only eight percent of eligible employees in 2018, though that rate is up slightly from seven percent the previous year.
Other trending enhancements
Here are some additional future-focused health plan design features and their prevalence among the 2,409 employers that participated in the survey:
- Targeted support for people with chronic conditions, including diabetes and cancer: 56 percent
- Expert medical opinion services, which allow employees to get an assessment from a highly qualified specialist on a given medical issue: 51 percent
- “Enhanced care management” featuring medical personnel who provide support throughout the entire care episode and help resolve claim issues: 36 percent
- Access to ‘centers of excellence’ for complex surgeries and other medical needs, including transplants (25 percent), bariatric care (14 percent), and oncology (10 percent)
These strategies “may take more time to reduce medical costs than greater employee cost-sharing, but in the process, they change how plans manage care, how providers are reimbursed, and even how people behave,” according to the report.
Overall, promoting a “culture of health” was found to be a high priority for many employers. Typical tactics to achieve this goal include providing healthy food choices in cafeterias and meetings, banning smoking on the work campus, and building on-site fitness facilities. They also involve offering resources to support “financial health” and “a range of technology-based resources to engage employees in caring for their health and fitness.”
The design of your company’s health care plan can evolve over time to, as feasible, take advantage of features that will likely improve the experience for everyone. We can help you identify all costs associated with your plan and assess which plan design would best suit your business.