Imagine a world in which every American is a subject matter expert in the price and process of purchasing medical services. In this ideal healthcare system, each person actively shops around for medic...
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Though trends often come and go, cost-saving movements tend to gain momentum and stick around—particularly for businesses. One area frequently targeted for savings by employers is employee benefits. It’s easy to see why companies are trying to reduce costs—employee benefits account for about 1/3 of total spending on employee compensation! While it certainly makes sense to cut costs where you can, at the same time, you must offer benefits that allow you to attract and retain the quality employees your business needs. Companies that use benefits strategically experience better overall company performance, above-average effectiveness in recruitment, and higher retention than companies who don't.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the top trends in employee health and wellness that have emerged in 2021. We’ll also give you tips for actionable and timely strategies you can implement to save on your company’s employee benefits costs and improve your offerings.
Increasing Access to Care with Telehealth and Telemedicine
Telemedicine, or the ability for healthcare providers to evaluate, diagnose, and treat illnesses and injuries remotely, has been gaining favor among insurance companies and providers for years. Since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, this trend has gained a lot of traction in the healthcare industry.
Telehealth and telemedicine platforms utilize virtual technology to help physicians and patients communicate with each other, even if they are not in the same physical location. This communication can be either in real-time or delayed, via phone, webcam, or email.
Telemedicine can be used for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients. Telemedicine providers conduct virtual appointments with patients, placing treatment orders in the same manner they would if meeting in person.
With telemedicine, healthcare facilities save on provider fees by sharing staff and consolidating schedules, and using blocks of hours instead of paying a full-time staff member. Telemedicine also enables facilities to save on office space and associated facility fees. These savings are passed on to your insurer and your company in the form of lower charges.
While your company saves costs, you can tout telemedicine coverage as a big employee benefit in itself, because employees love the convenience and time savings. Instead of waiting for a doctor appointment or at a clinic, when your insurance plan offers and covers telemedicine, employees can receive care on their schedule, often from the comfort of their own homes.
Telehealth services can be used to:
- Access primary care providers and specialists, including mental and behavioral health, for chronic health conditions and medication management
- Monitor clinical signs of certain chronic medical conditions (e.g., blood pressure, blood glucose, other remote assessments)
- Engage in case management for patients who have difficulty accessing care (e.g., those who live in very rural settings, older adults, those with limited mobility)
- Screen patients who may have symptoms of COVID-19 and refer as appropriate
- Follow up with patients after hospitalization
- Provide low-risk urgent care for non-COVID-19 conditions, identify those persons who may need additional medical consultation or assessment, and refer as appropriate
See More: Employee Benefits Consultants Checklist
Supporting Employees' Mental Health
Between experiencing a global health crisis, an uncertain economic outlook, and major disruptions to our daily routines for the past year, Americans are more stressed out than ever. In fact, two in three employees state they are feeling more stressed than before the COVID-19 pandemic. For employers, this means that the cost of providing health benefits is going to rise.
“Mental healthcare utilization will be a major driver of healthcare spending in 2021. Because of rising unemployment, the coronavirus, and social isolation, mental health has been deteriorating. As a result, around 12% of employer-sponsored health plan members said that they sought mental healthcare services due to the pandemic and another 18% plan to do so.” -HealthPayer Intelligence
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Each year, more than 40 million Americans experience mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free and confidential assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees that experience personal and/or work-related problems.
An EAP is an additional tool you can have in your toolbox to keep your employees healthy in both body and mind. EAPs also help businesses address organizational components that may be contributing to a negative work environment, enabling them to resolve and prevent those types of issues from occurring.
EAPs offer managers leadership tactics to assist in consulting with employees, helping to develop a drug-free workplace, planning and responding to a workplace crisis, and providing training and orientation to employees and managers regarding stress management skills.
When EAP services were provided, work loss was avoided in 39% of cases and work productivity improved in 36% of cases. Essentially, with an EAP program in place, a company’s workers’ compensation, drug, medical, and disability costs can be reduced.
Proactive Employee Education
Using health insurance can be complicated! Each plan has its own rules about which doctors are in-network, which services are covered and in what amount, and what your co-pay and deductible will be. There is also a lot of healthcare jargon that you must be familiar with to fully understand your benefits—terms like HSA, primary care, in network provider, co-insurance, deductible, and reimbursements are complex industry concepts that your employees may not be familiar with.
15% of employees said they don't understand their benefits
Encouraging Insurance Literacy
Encouraging insurance and health benefits literacy among all of your employees will help set them up to receive the maximum value from their health benefits. To successfully engage employees in getting and using their health insurance, employers should provide outreach and education to the populations of interest, help with enrollment and informing populations about use.
Consider developing simple, step-by-step guides to help employees effectively use their health benefits. Include a brief description of common industry terms and an easy-to-understand explanation of benefits for each plan. Include carrier and/or broker contact information so your employees know who to reach out to if they have questions about their benefits. Make sure that these guides are available in both English and Spanish.
Educating Your Employees About Levels of Care
When your employees need medical care, do they understand the differences in levels of care and costs at various facilities? It can get confusing, but educating employees on choosing the proper and most cost-effective level of care will pay off in the form of lower claims for your business.
Given the time and cost involved, emergency room visits should be reserved for true emergencies and life-threatening conditions, such as suspected heart attacks, broken bones, uncontrollable bleeding, and anything that requires highly trained physicians/surgeons.
Urgent Care Clinic
An urgent care clinic is often run by hospital staff, but it’s a step down (in both cost and sophistication of care) from an emergency room. Urgent care is a smart choice for a time-sensitive but not life-threatening medical concern, such as an ear infection, burn, or symptoms of strep throat or flu. Since urgent care clinics are not meant for life threatening or grave illnesses, patients generally are treated much more quickly than in an emergency room, and charges are usually a fraction of what an emergency room would charge for the same treatment.
A retail clinic (also called a convenient care clinic) is a walk-in treatment facility located inside a retail store or pharmacy. Retail clinics are usually the quickest and least costly way to treat minor and routine conditions, such as urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections, allergies, and skin conditions like athlete’s foot. Retail clinics also provide immunizations and school physicals. To help ensure your employees understand the different levels of care and associated costs:
- Send out the details by email
- Post the information in your employee breakroom
- Include an article on the topic in your company newsletter
As employees become more familiar with their care options and begin to make cost-efficient choices, your company can/may save money in claims and employees can/may save on out-of-pocket costs.
As a business leader, you know that your employees are one of your greatest assets. They are typically the ones out in the field or in front of the customer doing the hands-on work that makes it possible for your company to run effectively. So, doesn’t it make sense to ensure that your employees are healthy, happy, and productive?
In a study conducted by Randstad, almost all employees surveyed (94%) want their employers to ensure the benefits offered have a meaningful impact on their quality of life.]
Taking a holistic approach to employee wellness is a trend that is helping businesses of all sizes reduce healthcare costs, increase worker productivity, lead to more successful recruitment and retention efforts, promote employee engagement, and encourage a healthy and positive workplace culture. Here are some tips for promoting whole-life wellness among your employees:
Providing nutritional counseling and fostering a culture of health as part of your corporate wellness program encourages your employees to be fit and eat nutritious foods so that they will not only perform better and call in sick less, but will be healthier people overall.
Arming your employees with the right information about nutrition and wellness means that they will be more equipped to avoid diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable illnesses.
Supporting your employees’ mental health needs is paramount. It is a well-established fact that satisfied and happy workers provide better customer service and are more productive each day, leading to a 12% spike in productivity for your business and higher profits.
Financial literacy is an area where you can improve your employees’ overall wellbeing. The best way to accomplish this is to create an accessible library of resources on your website and/or employee portal. The library could be split into key topics, such as:
- Debt Management
- Budgeting and Saving
- Buying a car/home vs. leasing renting
- Paying for College
- Saving for Retirement
42% of people who are financially stressed are 10X more likely to not finish daily tasks at work, 9X more likely to have troubled relationships with coworkers, and 2X more likely to be looking for a new job.
Custom Tailoring Benefits Solutions
When it comes to supporting your employees’ health and wellness, it’s best to think in terms of quality over quantity. You could offer a dozen different wellness and benefits programs, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” solution.
A workplace wellness trend that has been helping businesses save on cost is tailoring benefits to match the needs of their specific employee population. Our team of experts can help your organization identify innovative and creative strategies to meet the unique needs of your employees.
Jonathan Amato is the Vice President of Sales for SWBC’s Employee Benefits Consulting division. He is responsible for achieving divisional sales goals, recruiting and developing sales team members, and managing several high-level client relationships.