Months into a public health crisis, the outlook for employer-sponsored healthcare could shift significantly due to delays in care, according to previous studies. A survey by the Business Group on Health published earlier this year projected median healthcare costs increase of 5% for the organization’s large employer members, but the Business Group noted that a resumption in care in 2021 might indicate that figure is too low.
Similarly, an April report from consulting firm Milliman predicted an increase in costs next year due to deferred care and increased demand, adding that such costs “are likely to be very significant.” At the same time, COVID-19 treatment and testing could also lead to cost increases of between 4% and 7%, Willis Towers Watson said in March. The total cost to U.S. employee benefit plans from COVID-19 could exceed $23 billion, the Integrated Benefits Institute said in April.
Forecasts for benefit spending largely haven’t reflected major cuts at many companies, however. Willis Towers Watson found in a May survey that nearly half of respondents were instead enhancing healthcare benefits. Voluntary wellness programs, by extension, may also avoid cuts at many organizations, according to sources who recently spoke to news agencies
“Many employers are avoiding health plan changes that impact employees this year, but they know managing cost must remain a priority,” Tracy Watts, senior consultant at Mercer, said in the statement. “Plan member stress and care avoidance in 2020 may result in higher utilization in 2021, and struggling health systems may seek to recoup lost revenue through higher prices. On the plus side, the momentum behind digital health innovation is driving towards greater efficiency, better health management, and greater member satisfaction.”
Virtual healthcare delivery has emerged as a trend going into 2021 across multiple studies. The Business Group on Health’s survey found more than half of large employer members included the implementation of more virtual care solutions among their top initiatives for next year. Analysts and consultants in the space told the news agencies that the trend toward virtual is likely to continue even after the pandemic’s effects subside, despite concerns about aspects like billing.