New Employee Benefits Trends in 2021 Shaped by COVID-19
Most employers have recognized the strain that the pandemic has placed on their employees and renewed their health benefits plans without significant changes to cost-sharing and network plan design. Efforts to improve delivery systems and networks to improve outcomes, quality, cost, and the overall health care experience will continue to be overshadowed in 2021 by more critical issues associated with the pandemic.
What Employee Health Benefits Are Employers Prioritizing?
Remote Work Arrangements
86% of survey respondents in a QTI HR survey said they have and will continue to offer remote work arrangements after the pandemic. While return-to-work plans vary widely, 75% of respondents have some employees working on-site or have given employees the option to work on-site.
Health Spending Accounts (HSAs)
With nearly 50% of large company employees moving into high-deductible health plans, health reimbursement and HSAs are expected to rise sharply.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs
The pandemic has produced powerful data emphasizing the need to prioritize DEI, particularly as it relates to inequalities in race. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Black and Latinx people are three times as likely to become infected and two times as likely to die from the virus as their white counterparts. Employers who identified DEI as a strategic priority were two-and-a-half times more likely to report high employee engagement and satisfaction levels.
Telehealth, Virtual Care, and Mental Health
The pandemic has certainly placed a spotlight on telehealth, virtual care, and mental health benefits for employers, forcing them to evaluate the effectiveness of their respective programs; this is likely driven by COVID-19, which has increased anxiety and depression and highlighted the connection between employee well-being and overall business performance.
In a Mercer Global survey, 32% of employers said they were expanding virtual or telehealth programs, while 25% said they were enhancing their mental health support. As a result, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are likely to increase in 2021 and beyond.
Financial Wellness Programs
Hoping to reduce financial stress and boost productivity in their employees, companies are focusing on financial wellbeing as well. According to a survey analysis by EBRI, the top financial wellness initiatives for employers post-pandemic will remain health care costs and retirement preparedness (with retirement planning and basic finance and budgeting as key areas of focus). However, personalized credit counseling, planning, and debt coaching are rapidly growing areas of focus for employers.
Health Care Cost-Containment Strategies Are Still King
Despite employers focusing on critical priorities related to COVID-19, their sights are still set on long-term cost control strategies. Specifically, per NAHPC’s survey, employers are still showing strong interest in:
Direct Primary Care / On-site and shared-site clinics
9 in 10 employers are considering value-based design approaches.
- Better managing high-cost claimants
- 7 in 10 employers are considering strategies to reduce high-cost claimants and bundled payments.
- Better managing high-cost prescription drugs
- 87% of employers indicate drug price regulation is helpful.
- Implementing high-value provider networks
- Addressing patients avoiding/deferring care due to personal costs inherent to high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).
- Payment Reform strategies
- 79% of employers want surprise billing regulation, and 75% want improved hospital price transparency and hospital rate regulation.
Other Trending Employee Health Benefits Topics
The pandemic has resulted in the closure of many traditional childcare resources, placing parents in a balancing act between work and family responsibilities and forcing employers to address their policies related to sick leave, childcare, and elder care. As a result, employers are open to changing childcare assistance for employees with children and flexible work scheduling.
Additionally, employers are expected to evaluate whether their policies of bundling vacation and sick time into a shared bank endangers their workforces by encouraging “presenteeism” – or showing up to work while sick. (Currently, Wisconsin does not have laws that require employers to provide paid leave; legislative proposals to change this could be expected in the near future.)
Other well-being priorities for employers include enhancing behavioral health, diabetes, nutrition, weight management, and physical activity.
We know it seems early, but The Alliance is already thinking about employee health benefits for 2022. If you’re considering changes to your health plan, we can help you analyze your data to help make small changes for a big impact. Reach out to our Account Management team!
- View the NAHPC survey results
- View the EBI survey results
- View the QTI HR survey results
- View the Mercer Global survey results
To learn more about self insured health plans, check out our Smarter Self-Funded Health Plans page or email me – I’d love to answer your questions!