Although Mercer presents its lauded National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans each year, perhaps none was more anticipated than this one, conducted during one of the most disruptive periods in modern history. Indeed, the pandemic, which threw a wrench in healthcare utilization and contributed stress to employees’ lives, is driving organizations’ strategies for supporting their people, all while managing upward spiraling costs.
Mercer’s expansive annual health benefits survey had 1,700 respondents for 2022, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers cost and plan design trends and examines not only how employers have reacted to the viral outbreak, but their plans for containing costs and keeping their employees healthy and productive.
What is the Overall Picture?
While health benefit costs increased sharply last year, organizations generally have no plans to have employees bear more of the healthcare benefits expense. Instead, employers are prioritizing employees’ behavioral health and putting in place more virtual healthcare solutions. They also are hunting for novel ways to engage both on-site and remote employees.
Here are some Mercer survey highlights:
- Health benefit cost. Such costs rose 6.3 percent last year and while organizations anticipate a more “normal” hike this year of 4.4 percent, several factors could spur a continued increase. Such factors could include higher healthcare utilization after a year or so of pandemic shutdowns, claims for the condition called “long COVID,” expensive new medicines, and inflationary healthcare prices.
- Recruitment and retention. We’re amid a tight labor market – Forbes expects it to remain tight throughout the decade — so it would behoove employers to put together a healthcare benefits plan that can help you lure and keep top talent. A recent AHIP survey found that 56 percent of employees said that their healthcare benefits were key in deciding whether to stay with their employer.
- Health parity. A significant portion of employers of all sizes reported that, within five years, they expect health parity and social determinants of health to be a top priority. After all, the pandemic served to expose ingrained structural causes of health inequities, including race and economic disparities.
- Behavioral health. Adding or enhancing programs to heighten access to behavioral health is the top priority for employers with at least 20,000 employees. For organizations with 500 or more employees, it’s a top-three priority. It’s a fact that the pandemic has put enormous strain on just about everyone’s mental and behavioral health, and accessible care is needed.
- Virtual healthcare options. It’s clear: organizations are seeking to add or enhance virtual healthcare to improve care access at no added cost. Telemedicine certainly increased last year during the pandemic’s apotheosis, when in-person care was substantially curbed. The best news is that employees want more telemedicine as part of their healthcare benefits, too, since it’s more convenient and promotes personalization.
Are you “on-trend,” as they say, with your 2022 health program? It’s an entirely new day, and employees are requiring more support for mental health and other behavioral issues, more personalized care, and virtual healthcare. Healthy employees make for healthy bottom lines, and besides, you need a healthcare strategy that will help you recruit and retain employees in what is a very tight labor market. If you need help putting such a strategy in place, we suggest that you contact Mercer, one of the nation’s leading healthcare benefits consultants, which has the experience and know-how to get and keep you on track.