Employers are reassessing health services amid a tight job market, a survey has found

diving letter:

  • Faced with the challenges of recruiting and retaining employees in a tight job market, nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies (64%) plan to increase efforts to improve employee health care affordability over the next two years, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson. The answer comes as healthcare costs show signs of accelerating, the consultancy said on Tuesday.
  • Almost all employers (95%) in the survey said they expect to provide virtual care to meet demand for medical and behavioral health services, and 87% of respondents said improving mental health services is top priority has priority.
  • Even as employers take steps to address rising costs, confidence in healthcare sponsorship over the next decade is at its highest level in more than 10 years, according to WTW, a global company Consulting and mediation company. The survey of 636 employers found that 84% were very confident that their organizations would still be providing health services in 10 years, compared to 38% who were very confident in 2011.

Dive insight:

Employers face a variety of challenges in 2022, including accelerating inflation and healthcare costs. They are also struggling to attract and retain workers and a deteriorating mental health picture for workers and their families as the pandemic has taken its toll, WTW said. “Many employers are in the middle of a perfect storm,” Lindsay Hunter, the company’s senior director of health and benefits, said in the report.

The cost per employee of employer-sponsored health insurance rose 6.3% last year, the highest annual increase since 2010, according to a survey released by Mercer late last year. The consultancy said it was unclear whether the surge was temporary because patients had been delayed in restarting treatment due to COVID-19, or whether it represented the beginning of a new period of higher cost growth.

A number of organizations including employer groups and outside of healthcare companiesSeeing a need for new solutions to the ongoing problem of rising healthcare costs, seek to disrupt the industry with new approaches to save employers money without compromising access or quality of care.

About nine in ten (94%) of employers surveyed in the WTW survey named managing health care costs as their top priority over the next two years. When asked about the top hurdles they see to their healthcare strategies, 73% cited rising prices due to inflation and provider consolidation. More than half (54%) said a key challenge is a lack of employee awareness of where to find programs to support their needs.

Employers “are looking for ways to make health care more affordable for themselves and their employees,” Hunter said. Strategies to improve affordability include improving quality and outcomes (55%) and adding or expanding low-cost or free coverage for some benefits (41 About a third (32%) of employers also expect them to will make changes to their employees’ co-payments over the next two years, while 21% expect to revise health insurance plans.

The shift to remote work during the pandemic has contributed to more mental health issues among employees and their families, according to WTW. In response, two-thirds of employers said ensuring their health and wellbeing programs support remote workers will be a key priority over the next two years, and 62% plan to improve programs for family members.

Virtual care is likely to become a permanent part of employers’ health strategies as the pandemic subsides, WTW said. The survey found that 55% of employers believe expanding virtual care will help reduce healthcare costs and 50% believe it will improve outcomes. WTW anticipates more employers will use virtual care for services like physical therapy and breastfeeding counseling to better manage costs.

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