Virtual Care: Should Your Health Care Plan Be More Future-Focused?

The pace of health care cost inflation has remained moderate over the past year or so. This is good news, and employers are trying to keep it that way. In response, many companies aren’t seeking immediate business cost control measures or asking employees to shoulder more of the burden. Rather, they’re looking to “future-focused” virtual 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.

Virtual Care

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 the virtual care employer provided health benefits is that patients will be more willing to seek medical attention when it can be delivered conveniently. In turn, this inherent efficiency will lead to help reduce stress in employees, better health outcomes and reduction in 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% — was up substantially from 71% in the previous year’s survey (2017) and just 18% in 2014. But utilization was only 8% of eligible employees in 2018, though that rate is up slightly from 7% the previous year.

Other Trending Enhancements

In addition to virtual care, here are some additional health plan design features focusing on the future and their prevalence. This data among the 2,409 employers that participated in the survey:

  • Targeted support for people with chronic conditions, including diabetes and cancer: 56%.
  • Expert medical opinion services. This feature allows employees to get an assessment from a highly qualified specialist on a given medical issue: 51%.
  • “Enhanced care management” featuring medical personnel who provide support throughout the entire care episode and help resolve claim issues: 36%.
  • Access to “centers of excellence” for complex surgeries and other medical needs. This includes transplants (25%), bariatric care (14%) and oncology (10%).

These strategies

“may take more time to reduce medical costs than greater employee cost-sharing.”

However, the report also notes that the process changes

“how plans manage care, how providers are reimbursed, and even how people behave.”

Overall, promoting a “culture of health” is generally 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.
  • Building on-site fitness facilities.

They also involve offering additional resources as part of their employee wellness program to support “financial health” and “a range of technology-based resources to engage employees in caring for their health and fitness.”

Improved Experience

The design of your company’s health care plan can evolve over time. It is best to take advantage of these features, such as virtual care, that will likely improve the experience for everyone. We can help identify all health insurance costs for businesses in association to the plan. Let our Chicago accounting team help assess which plan design would best suit your business!