Quick Look: Changes to healthcare took center stage last year, as the focus on vaccines, access, and inclusivity drove headlines in 2021. While the pandemic still looms large, there are promising innovations and growing awareness that will transform consumer healthcare. Here’s a look at three healthcare trends that will have a significant impact for employers and their policies.
COVID-19 continues to be the driving force behind many of today’s healthcare developments, impacting industries and organizations all of sizes. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in particular, have felt the weight of these changes and have had to revamp and revise many existing workplace policies to accommodate. At the same time, the way people work has also changed… and so did their expectations for better access to care, inclusive benefits, and price transparency.
Luckily for employers, a healthy workforce can help put you in a position to grow and succeed. Here, we’ll look at three healthcare trends impacting the workforce this year, and the upsides of working with a professional employer organization (PEO).
Mental Health and Wellness
The COVID-19 pandemic has put mental health in the spotlight for many businesses, as employees have struggled with global uncertainty, financial challenges, and overall stress both in and outside of the office. Data from the Society for Human Resource Management showed one in three employees are experiencing symptoms of depression due to the pandemic, and the American Psychological Association notes nearly 74% of psychologists reported a recent increase in demand for patient therapy for anxiety disorders.
When employees feel stressed, their work suffers—potentially leading to performance issues and lackluster production. Fortunately, many employers are helping workers take control of their mental health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey, about 39% of employers updated their health plans since the start of the pandemic to expand access to mental health services.
Many of these SMBs are turning to their PEO company for guidance on how to offer mental wellness benefits. Working with a PEO opens the door to cost-effective voluntary and employee benefit services like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), meditation and mindfulness mobile apps, flexible work policies, and investments in family stress management.
While 75% of workers in the United States have paid sick leave, data suggests that a number of these people are unlikely to use sick days for mental health reasons. Taking time off from work to recover from a physical illness is commonplace, and 2022 will be the year that using sick time to tend to mental health will be just as conventional.
Rise in Telehealth
Most U.S. consumers have tried virtual care at least once, especially as many healthcare practices switched to remote services during the pandemic. While the use of telehealth dropped slightly in 2021 after rapid growth in 2020, many employees will continue to leverage virtual care due to increased scheduling flexibility and the ability to visit a doctor from the comfort of home. In fact, 43% of adults stated they would continue to use telehealth services “after” the pandemic, and 34% would prefer telehealth to an in-person office visit, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association.
A McKinsey study noted that telehealth adoption overall now accounts for up to 17% of outpatient/office visit claims—38x higher than pre-pandemic rates. That same report stated that this growth can be attributed to the increased willingness of both consumers and providers, as well as regulatory changes toward expanded access and insurance coverages.
Further data revealed that the number of virtual-first health plans grew from one in 2019 to at least eight in 2020. While many products are still developing, they offer the potential of lower premiums and greater convenience, in return for a virtual doctor visit as the first point of care. These advantages are attracting increasing attention from employers, brokers, and payers.
Telehealth is here to stay. And a PEO can help brokers and SMBs tailor employee benefit services to include telehealth options for both physical and mental wellness coverage. Since many telemedicine services are included in standard plans, the convenience of virtual health usually comes at no extra cost for employers.
The pandemic also put a sharper focus on systemic health equity in the United States. Underserved populations, communities of color, and people living in rural areas suffered disproportionate rates of death and infection. These communities were shown to have little, or in some cases, no access to hospitals or medical professionals.
This further emphasized the role employers play in advancing health equity. According to the U.S. Census, about 55% of the U.S. population receives health benefits through employers. All employees should have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible—and this includes removing obstacles to health such as one-size-fits all benefits and lack of in-network providers.
There are several ways employers can foster health equity in the workplace: offering more choices (plans that meets the needs of diverse employee population), differences (plans with meaningfully different actuarial values), and cost (reduced cost of access and expanded covered preventive services), can help every employee achieve optimal health.
A recent study by McKinsey revealed three additional steps where employers can act:
- expand benefits that help employees to meet basic needs (for example, housing and transportation)
- ensure benefits are easy to access, understand, and use
- change workplace culture to destigmatize receiving care
This is another area where SMB leaders who partner with PEO for health benefits provide an even greater path to health equity. PEOs leverage their collective bargaining power to secure lower rates for health insurance, retirement plans, etc. This helps keep costs down for the employer and offers better plan choices at better prices to attract and retain employees.
Transforming Employee Health
A sharper focus on virtual care, increased availability and awareness of mental wellness, and advances in health equity all have important implications on America’s workforce. But SMBs don’t have to navigate these changes alone.
The HR professionals at a PEO can help employers manage the complexities of healthcare. Whether it’s staying compliant with new laws and regulations, or offering modern employee benefit services, you can depend on your HR professional to offer valuable solutions that effectively address worker needs.
How will new healthcare trends impact your employee benefits? Contact our experts today for answers.