COVID-19 Prods Employers to Explore Virtual-Directed Health Plans

By John Commins

The nation’s employers are increasingly adding coverage for virtual and mental healthcare benefits in their employee insurance plans, Aon plc says.

The move is largely a response to the tremendous increase in virtual care visits during the coronavirus public health emergency, according to Aon’s new report released Thursday.

That shift in consumer behavior has led 36% of employers to say they are interested in exploring a virtual-directed health plan model with an online primary care platform that directs all care, including coordination with traditional health providers.

Aon estimates that a virtual-directed model could reduce employer medical plan costs by as much as 15%.

“Just like countless other aspects in our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate innovation and evolve future total rewards programs to build a more resilient workforce,” said Janet Faircloth, senior vice president for Aon’s Health Solutions.

The survey identifies several ways the pandemic has pushed employers to adapt their health and benefits packages, including:

  • Digital health apps (47%), self-management tools (41%) and navigation and consumer engagement platforms (41%) are leading areas of interest for employers.
  • Mental health (72% ranked in the top 5) and work/life balance (57% ranked in the top 5) were the two most important wellbeing issues. Mental health moved to the most mentioned issue in the latest survey in comparison to pre-COVID-19, when it was third highest.
  • COVID-19 comes in third with 52% mentioning it as a top wellbeing issue. Financial stress, which was the top wellbeing issue pre-COVID-19, moved to fourth overall in importance.
  • Employers want to steer participants through plan design or other financial incentives to high-quality, cost-effective hospitals and physicians, with 45% of survey participants saying they were interested in implementing these features, while 32% already are steering members.
  • Employers are focused on creating an inclusive and diverse workforce in which all individuals feel valued and respected and have an equal opportunity to succeed. While 23% of firms indicate having benefit programs that effectively support and advance diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, half of the firms surveyed stated they were interested in adding this.

“Employers have the unique opportunity to enhance the value of their health and wellbeing benefits to better meet the career, financial and health needs of a wider spectrum of employees and improve the lives of millions of people in the process,” Faircloth said.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.