Employers focus on access, affordability as they mull 2023 benefits: Mercer

As employers look ahead to 2023, they're putting a focus on affordability and access in designing health benefits, a new survey from Mercer shows.

The report polled 708 employers ranging from small businesses to large firms and found two-thirds are planning to beef up their health benefit options in an effort to improve recruitment and retention, particularly in a hot labor market. In addition, a fifth of large employers say they're putting a particular focus on hourly and low-wage workers.

“In today’s competitive labor market, employees are able to leave jobs for others offering only slightly higher pay. Employers are looking to create a stronger bond with this workforce by offering health and well-being benefits and resources that their employees will value,” said Tracy Watts, senior partner and national leader for U.S. health policy at Mercer, in a statement.

Virtual care is a growing space, according to the survey. While telemedicine is offered almost universally, the survey found that employers are looking to add additional services beyond traditional telehealth in 2023.

More than half of large employers (52%) said they will be offering virtual behavioral health care next year, and 40% said they will invest in virtual primary care. Employers view virtual tools as key ways to connect workers to care in a way that is more convenient and lower-cost as well as in avenues they are already comfortable with, according to the survey.

Also on the affordability front, a growing number of employers are offering plan options with low deductibles or no deductible, with 41% saying the already have such a plan option.

Plus, 11% are considering adding a low- or no-deductible offering, according to the survey.

An additional 11% offer free employee-only coverage, which includes no payment deductions, for at least one plan design, with 11% more considering such coverage. These plans are more common among small businesses and are a newer strategy for large employers.

Offering employees greater flexibility in their benefits can be a key strategy for employers who may not be able to invest significant financial resources in enhancing benefits, according to the survey.

"In situations where there are no additional dollars to invest, flexibility is a great place to start. Flexibility can take many forms, directly supports work-life balance, and often doesn’t come with a high price tag," Watts said.