5 Current Trends in Employee Health Benefits
Employee health benefits can be a significant time-and-dollar investment – but their return-on-investment is also large! Trends impacting the employee benefits landscape are important to your plan and your organization: by understanding trends you can make adjustments to your plan to maximize your returns and protect your investment.
Here are the top 5 trends in employee health benefits:
1. Virtual Healthcare
Virtual healthcare is an increasingly popular (and important) trend in employee health benefits. Although it has been used in rural settings for many years, in has only hit the mainstream in the last few years.Virtual healthcare means using a phone, computer or tablet to connect (remotely) to an accredited doctor or nurse practitioner. At GroupHEALTH, we partner with Akira by Telus to provide virtual healthcare as part of our benefit plans.
Akira’s virtual healthcare is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it can be accessed from anywhere. This is a big reason why it has become such a trend in the employee benefits landscape. It is much more convenient to have such unrestricted access to medical professionals who can provide many of the same services offered during an in-person visit. This includes: diagnosing medical concerns, writing prescriptions, ordering tests, referring patients to specialists and providing medical documentation.
Virtual healthcare is a trend that is here to stay. As technology is integrated into more and more facets of our lives, employees want access to virtual healthcare. That being said, by offering employees and potential employees the benefits that they want, you can improve retention and support recruitment efforts for your organization. Virtual healthcare also helps increase productivity and decrease absenteeism, because it makes it easier for employees to get the help they need.
2. Disability Management
Disability management services have been around for a long time, but many organizations are just now recognizing the importance of them. So although this is a relatively new trend, the services are not new. At GroupHEALTH, we’ve incorporated disability management services into our employee benefits plans for many years – they are a win/win for both organizations and their employees who are ill or injured.
Disability management services are typically provided by an independent third-party organization (we use the Disability Management Institute or “DMI”). A case worker from DMI becomes involved in the disability claim early on when an employee is absent due to injury or illness. They make contact with the ill or injured employee, support them in getting medical help, completing claim forms and returning to work. They also provide non-confidential updates to the employer, to assist in labour force planning. This support helps the worker return to the workplace and pre-disability health sooner, and it shortens the length of the disability claim for the employer.
This trend towards managing disability claims is an important one. Disability claims make up a significant portion of total employee benefit plan costs – finding ways to contain and reduce total claim costs helps protect the sustainability of the plan. It also provides employees with valuable support during difficult times.
3. Support for Mental Health
Over the last number of years, organizations have begun to recognize the importance of supporting not only the physical health of employees, but also their mental health. This trend of supporting mental health has been accelerated over the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has increased stress, anxiety and depression – all of which have a negative impact on productivity, absences and presenteeism.
One of the best ways to support mental health is to provide access to an employee and family assistance program (EFAP). A robust employee and family assistance program provides 24/7 access to professional support and offers free short-term counselling. Online access to articles, podcasts and toolkits to support mental health are also an important element of a good EFAP.
This trend of supporting mental health is important all the time, but particularly when so many workers are facing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing that support can mean all the difference to an employee’s ability to be an active and productive contributor to the organization.
4. Rising Drug Costs
The rising cost of prescription drugs has been an ongoing trend in the employee health benefits landscape for many years. It’s concerning because prescription drugs account for such a large portion of total spend on employee benefits. Many organizations are struggling with containing the cost of prescription drug spend in order to protect the sustainability of the plan.
Although the trend of rising prescription drug costs has been ongoing, there have been subtle changes to the causes of the increases. In years past, many important prescription drugs were under patent, meaning the manufacturers were charging premium prices for their drugs. New prescription drugs developed for common health conditions (for example, managing cholesterol or blood pressure) were taken by large numbers of workers, which increased costs for the plan. Many of those drugs are no longer under patent, which should have led to an overall decrease in prescription drug spending. But the impact has been lower than anticipated.
Drug manufacturers continue to develop high-cost specialty drugs to treat rare illnesses. These drugs cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though they are not widely used, just one employee claiming for a high-cost specialty drug can dramatically increase prescription drug spend, and therefore the cost of an employee benefits plan. According to Express Scripts Canada, just 2% of drug claims are for high-cost specialty drugs, yet they account for more than 30% of total prescription drug spending.
This trend of rising prescription drug costs, particularly with regards to specialty drugs, is one to take note of. If not managed, rising prescription drug costs can threaten the very existence of the benefit plan. There are options to help control drug spend; utilizing central dispensing pharmacies and managed formularies are just some of the tools GroupHEALTH can incorporate to target these rising drug costs.
Technology is a trend that has influenced all industries, and the employee benefits industry is no different. New technology has improved and changed the customer experience both for employees and plan administrators.
Technology allows employees to access current benefits coverage and the status of claims. It allows employees to use their mobile devices to submit claims and receive direct deposit reimbursement. Employees can find nearby providers, and remaining balances for each benefit. It’s a lot of information, right at their fingertips. This trend will only continue as technology becomes a part of all facets of our lives.
Technology has also been a game changer for plan administrators who are responsible for the day-to-day administration of the plan. Using an online interface to maintain employee data and complete routine employee benefit transactions saves a lot of time and money. It means eliminating most (or all) of the paper associated with the plan and reducing the time needed to complete many transactions.
Trends influence your plan
Being aware of current employee benefit trends is important for many reasons. These trends should influence the benefits you provide and how you provide them. For example, if your goal is to leverage your plan for recruitment and retention, you will want to include virtual healthcare, support for mental health and technology to make your plan attractive to potential employees.
Trends such as disability management and the rising costs of prescription drugs should trigger a search for solutions. Does your current plan address these trends, and if not, what options are available?
Trends change and it’s important to have current information in order to get the most out of your benefits dollars.
Good Advice is Key
Are you interested in learning more about employee health benefit trends and how they may affect your plan? Is your plan positioned to deal with the current trends? Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone, or contact us for a comparison quote.