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Employee Benefits Trends Being Shaped by the Pandemic
By: Mike Roche | Director of Business Development

Most employers recognize the pandemic’s strain on their employees, and as a result, have renewed their health benefits 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 critical issues associated with COVID-19.

What Employee 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

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 CDC shows that Black and Latinx people are three times as likely to become infected and twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as their white counterparts. Employers who identified DEI as a strategic priority were 2.5x more likely to report high employee engagement and satisfaction levels. 

Telehealth, Virtual Care, and Mental Health 

Increased anxiety and depression in employees during the pandemic has 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 also focusing on their workforces’ financial well-being. According to a survey analysis by EBRI, the top financial wellness initiatives for employers post-pandemic will remain health care costs and retirement preparedness, however, personalized credit counseling and debt coaching are emerging as popular areas of focus.

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, employers still show a strong interest in: 

On-site and shared-site direct primary care clinics9 in 10 employers are considering these value-based design approaches.
Managing high-cost claimants: 70% of employers are considering strategies to reduce high-cost claimants and bundled payments. 
Managing high-cost prescription drugs: 87% of employers indicate drug price regulation is helpful.  
Payment Reform strategies: 79% of employers want surprise billing regulation, and 75% want improved hospital price transparency and rate regulation. 

Other Trending Employee 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, many employers are reconsidering their approaches to childcare assistance 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. Other well-being priorities for employers include enhancing behavioral health, diabetes, nutrition, and weight management. 

It may seem 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 make small changes for a big impact.

Mike is responsible for working with employers on health benefit strategies; sharing data-based information to help members manage their health care spend
and serving as their voice. Mike previously served as a regional sales advisor for Digital Benefits Advisors in Madison, where he managed the health benefits for more than 160 credit union clients across 14 states.

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