August 18, 2020
This part of the report provides a snapshot of employers’ overall concerns in 2020 and beyond. COVID-19 had a significant impact on employers’ perspectives on health, helping to strengthen the link between health care strategy and workforce strategy. It also affected planning for 2021. Demand for virtual care has increased exponentially, a trend that will be discussed in more detail in Part 3. Regarding pharmacy strategy, high-cost drug therapies are employers’ top concern, an area that is covered in Part 4.
- More than ever before, employers see health care strategy as an integral part of their workforce strategy. Forty-five percent of respondents currently hold this view, compared to 36% in 2019. This upward trajectory illustrates a growing appreciation of the importance of employee health and well-being on overall business performance.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on how employers view the relationship between their health care strategy and workforce strategy. It also has affected health care planning for 2021.
- Virtual care was already on the rise but its presence on the health care landscape has grown as a result of COVID-19. Not only have employers increased their offerings this year, they also believe that virtual care is here to stay.
Connection Between Health Care Strategy and Workforce Strategy Continues to Grow
This year, employers continue to see health care strategy as an integral part of their workforce strategy. The survey showed a jump of nine points between 2019 and 2020, increasing from 36% to 45%. The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in this upward trajectory, but it also illustrated another trend: the growing awareness of the link between employee health and well-being and overall business performance.
Impact of COVID-19 on Virtual Care
The COVID-19 pandemic vividly illustrates how an unparalleled event can upend every aspect of health care, including care delivery and innovation, as well as alter employers’ perspectives on their health care strategy. Thirty-eight percent of respondents to this year’s survey said that the pandemic had a very significant or significant impact on how they view the role of their health care strategy on their workforce strategy. A quarter indicated that the pandemic also has had a significant impact on their health care strategy for 2021.
Changes Driven by COVID-19
What actions have employers taken as a result of COVID-19? Perhaps the biggest change is a significant increase in virtual solution offerings. Not only have employers made access to virtual health easier, they also have increased the number of choices. Seventy-six percent of respondents said that they made changes to increase access to virtual solutions, and 71% accelerated telehealth and virtual health offerings. Furthermore, 43% added new virtual mental health benefits.
The urgency of the moment also meant that employers couldn’t wait for normal channels within the delivery system to respond to COVID. For this reason, 24% of employers took matters into their own hands, by circumventing the system to implement virtual solutions – a significant jump from previous years, when only 6% in 2018 and 5% in 2019 went this route. There was a reduction in the percent of employers exclusively relying on implementing alternative payment models as a way to drive delivery system change (from 16% in 2019 to 5% in 2020). Ultimately, about one-third of employers combine both methods – deploying virtual and digital care point solutions while pursuing the implementation of alternative models (see Figure 1.4).
Role of Virtual Care in Health Care Delivery
Employers also do not appear to view this shift to virtual care as a one-off during a difficult year. Eighty percent of large employers believe that virtual care will have a significant impact on how health care is delivered in the future. This is a marked increase from 2018, when 52% of employers believed this to be true. Read more about this important topic in Part 3.
Views on Pharmacy Costs
As employers navigate and respond to the growth of especially high-priced therapies, 80% of respondents think that current tactics in place to finance these drugs do little to control their overall price. This topic is covered in more detail in Part 4.
As a result, employers see a role for the government to intervene and reduce costs and underlying prices of high-cost therapies, a trend that first became evident last year. In fact, this year, slightly more employers held this position: 50% in 2020 compared to 46% in 2019.
When it comes to policy, in addition to drug pricing, three other issues that policymakers are considering are on employers’ minds as well: surprise billing, affordability of health care and health savings accounts (HSAs). In all three areas, employers considered a few possible solutions.
To resolve payment disputes for surprise bills, 57% said that setting a benchmark rate based on the local negotiated in-network rate would be the most appropriate approach, followed by 54% who said that setting a benchmark at the Medicare rate or some percentage of it could be effective. Other options came in much lower. Only 11% thought that arbitration between providers was a viable solution, while 7% thought that setting a benchmark rate based on provider charges would help solve the problem. The latter two solutions are likely to be inflationary, while setting a benchmark that references either in-network rates or a percentage of Medicare tends to moderate cost increases and encourage more providers to participate in plan networks.
Although employers are concerned about affordability and the growth in out-of-pocket expenses, they are also concerned that Congress’ focus on limiting out-of-pocket expenses alone could be shortsighted, especially if it is not accompanied by other measures that address overall affordability. Merely limiting out-of-pocket costs could lead to higher cost trends for both employers and employees. While employers see some value in limiting out-of-pocket costs legislatively, most prefer to see more competition in the market as a way to lower costs and increase affordability.
As Congress and the Administration consider changes to HSA rules, employers recommended several improvements, all of which make it easier to cover a particular service before the deductible is met. These services include telehealth, additional treatments for chronic conditions and on-site and near-site clinic services. The first and third options may have been informed by COVID because both have been utilized extensively since the pandemic hit. In the case of on-site and near-site clinics, they have proven to be flexible enough to become virtual when necessary (see Part 3 for more information about this).
Introduction2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey
Full Report2021 Plan Design Survey: Full Report
Executive Summary2021 Plan Design Survey: Executive Summary
Infographic2021 Plan Design Survey: Strategic Implications of COVID-19
Chart Pack2021 Plan Design Survey: Chart Pack
Part 12021 Plan Design Survey: Employer Perspectives on the Health Care Landscape
Part 22021 Plan Design Survey: Health Care Strategy, Plan Design and Medical Costs
Part 32021 Plan Design Survey: Health Care Delivery System
Part 42021 Plan Design Survey: Pharmacy Strategy and Design