Three-quarters of employers have accelerated telehealth offerings amid pandemic: Business Group

More than three-quarters of employers have accelerated their telehealth and virtual care investments under the pandemic, according to new data from the Business Group on Health.

The organization released its annual Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey on Wednesday, in which it found 76% of employers have grown their virtual care offerings due to COVID-19. 

The survey found that they plan to continue investing in these solutions but are not intending to exclude on-site clinics as an option in favor of virtual care. They see these clinics as playing a key role in managing testing programs for the virus as well as managing chronic illnesses.

Just under half (44%) of employers surveyed currently offer an on-site clinic, and an additional 13% said they were considering such a clinic for 2023 or 2024.

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Brenna Shebel, vice president of the Business Group, said on a call with reporters Wednesday that employers are bringing together the expectations of different groups of employees in their approaches.

As younger, Generation Z employees enter the market, they come with an expectation of access to virtual services and digital health tools, for example, she said.

"It's just being aware of what the expectations and interests are of different groups of employees," Shebel said.

Employers also felt the national trend of health spend declining significantly in 2020, with some employers reporting a negative trend, dropping to as low as negative 12%. However, they're bracing for that to reverse over the rest of this year and into 2022, according to the survey.

Employers expect the trend to increase to 6% before and after plan design changes in 2021, the survey found. For 2022, they expect it to drop slightly to 5.8% following updates to plan design.

The survey also found a slight decrease in the number of employers naming health benefits as integral to their strategy. Ellen Kelsay, CEO of the Business Group, told reporters this may be because the work done amid the pandemic doesn't necessarily reflect their broader plans around healthcare.

"They really weren’t tied to a long-term strategy related to their workforce," she said.