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Analysis

Employers to Combat Rising Health Benefit Costs With Virtual Care Solutions

By Jack O'Brien  
   August 13, 2019

Nearly 40% of employers indicated that a more focused strategy on high cost claims was a top priority for 2020.

In the face of continually rising health benefit costs, employers are aiming to provide additional virtual care solutions, according to a National Business Group on Health (NBGH) survey released Tuesday morning.

Just over half of the respondents stated that implementing more virtual care solutions was their top priority for 2020, while nearly 40% indicated that a more focused strategy on high cost claims was the paramount issue. Employers also have an eye on prescription drug costs, according to the survey.

NBGH projects the total cost of health benefits to increase 5% in 2020, just as last year's survey projected for 2019, though the survey found that actual costs rose 3.6% in 2018. When premiums and out-of-pocket costs are included, NBGH projects the total cost per employee to be $14,642 in 2019, which is expected to rise to $15,375 next year.

The NBGH survey is the latest in a line of research looking at how employers are considering healthcare strategies in a way that provides ample care options for employees while addressing cost concerns as well. 

Related: Expanding Care Choices Ranks as Top Priority for Employers

Related: What! No Insurance Required? How SSM Health Creates Low-Cost, Operationally Efficient Virtual Care

Employers remain bullish about the future of virtual care, with nearly two-thirds of respondents indicating that these solutions will have a significant impact on healthcare delivery in 2020.

Those who stated that they would implement solutions next year are primarily focused on introducing telehealth services and virtual mental healthcare benefits to their employees. 

Employers also highlighted specialty areas that cost more than others, with nearly half of respondents pointing to musculoskeletal issues as the top medical condition affecting costs. Cancer garnered a quarter of responses as the top condition affecting costs.

Given the recognition of which medical conditions are affecting the bottom lines, 23% of employers plan on offering virtual musculoskeletal management solutions next year while nearly 40% plan on introducing them by 2022.

Related: Health System CEOs More Concerned With Growth Than Costs

Prescription drug costs also remain top of mind for employers as they examine employee health benefits, with 20% of respondents stating they will introduce a point of rebate program next year, though 67% support a rebate-less model based on net price of medications.

The survey supported a Willis Towers Watson survey from May that found employers are increasingly fond of accountable care organizations and high-performance networks, with 31% of respondents seeking to implement either or both programs next year.

Related: Employers Leaning Toward High-Performance Networks, ACOs to Improve Care Access

NBGH also found that fewer employers are offering consumer-directed health plans, projected 25% of employers in 2020, as most move on to offering preferred provider organization plans.

Related: 1.3% of Enrollees Account for Nearly 20% of Spending in Larger Employer Health Plans

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


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